The New Jersey Assembly moved forward today on a bill sponsored by Assembly Democrat John McKeon (Essex/Morris) that ensures New Jersey’s decades-long history of open space, farmland and historic preservation efforts will continue – indefinitely.
The constitutional amendment (SCR-84/ACR-130) is a proposal for a November ballot referendum, which allows voters to decide on dedicating existing corporation business tax revenues from July 1, 2015 until June 30, 2019 and an additional 2 percent annually thereafter to financing the state’s programs for:
· Open space preservation (Green Acres), the preservation of flood-prone areas (Blue Acres), farmland preservation and historic site preservation;
· Water quality resources programs and projects;
· Polluted site cleanups; and
· Underground tank removal and cleanup
“Open space preservation is an issue that knows no party or ideology. It’s simply about ensuring that New Jersey residents have the best possible quality of life,” said McKeon. “This desperately-needed source of long-term, stable funding will go a long way toward protecting some of this state’s best assets, and we know voters will support that ideal.”
Traditionally, funding for open space preservation programs has come from borrowing large sums of money every couple of years, which is then placed into the Garden State Preservation Trust (GSPT) fund. In its 50-year history, the GSPT has preserved approximately 800,000 acres for open spaces, farmlands, historic sites, parks development and clean water. However, all money in the GSPT has been virtually depleted.
New Jersey is now at a crossroads. The current condition of our debt-ridden state has left borrowing money from new bond issuances an option lawmakers clearly can ill afford right now. This bill could be our saving grace.
Since its inception, the proposal has gotten widespread support. To date, more than 30 bipartisan lawmakers have signed on as sponsors. Assemblyman McKeon’s district-mate, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey is also a prime sponsor of the bill. “Here in the Garden State, we appreciate the environment, and we want to make sure future generations can say the same,” said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). “We must now lead by example. This resolution is a declaration that we respect the land and water our children and grandchildren will inherit.”
McKeon, also vice chairman of the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee, is quick to point out, “The preservation of open space not only enhances and protects our quality of life, but is key to New Jersey’s long-term economic health. Studies have shown every dollar invested in preservation yields a $10 return.” Investments in open space strengthen local economies by maintaining property values and helping control the cost of municipal services such as stormwater control and water filtration. Agriculture is the Garden State’s third largest industry and state officials have estimated roughly 400,000 acres of farmland needs protection in order to maintain it.
In June, the Senate passed the constitutional amendment by a vote of 36-1. Today was the final day for Assembly lawmakers to act in order for it to have sufficient time to be placed on ballots this fall. With a vote of XX-XX, the measure is now in voter’s hands.