“Keep the Garden in the Garden State” was the message when the NJ Keep It Green Coalition kicked off its campaign to urge New Jersey voters to support Public Question 2 on the November 4 ballot with a "yes" vote at an event hosted by Greater Newark Conservancy at its Prudential Outdoor Learning Center in Newark. The Coalition includes more than 185 park and conservation organizations working to create a long-term, dedicated source of funding for the preservation and stewardship of New Jersey’s natural areas, waterways, parks, farmland and historic sites.
Senators Bob Smith and Christopher “Kip” Bateman and assemblyman John McKeon, bipartisan sponsors of the legislation, were joined by Senator Tom Kean, Jr., Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, a long list of environmental organization representatives, Conservancy staff, student interns and Newark residents to urge voter support.
Public Question 2 asks voters to dedicate existing state funds to protect clean water and ensure that future generations continue to have access to parks, open spaces, farmland and historic treasures. The funding will replenish the now-depleted Green Acres, Blue Acres, farmland and historic preservation programs, and continue funding to improve water quality, remove and clean up underground storage tanks and clean up polluted sites.
“Through programs such as Green and Blue Acres, farmland preservation and historic preservation the state has been able to set aside hundreds of thousands of acres of land for the public’s well-being and enjoyment, but tremendous needs remain,” Senator Smith stated. “It is imperative to vote yes on November 4 to protect the state’s drinking water and last remaining open spaces for the health of our communities and future generations.”
Robin Dougherty, Greater Newark Conservancy’s Executive Director, pointed out that Public Question 2 is as important for urban cities like Newark as it is for suburban and rural communities statewide. “There is clearly a demand for more parks and open spaces in cities like Newark,” said Dougherty. “Since 2004 when we first opened the Prudential Outdoor Learning Center, more than 30,000 local schoolchildren have experienced the wonder of the natural world through educational field trips to our Center, which was made possible in part by Green Acres funding.”
Greater Newark Conservancy provides a range of programming at the Center throughout the year, and is a participant in the Newark Youth Leadership Program (NYLP), providing Newark high school and college youth with job training experience, leadership development, exposure to different career options in environmental and horticultural fields and opportunities for pursuing a college education. At the kickoff event, students in the NYLP program provided tours of the Center and staffed a farm stand with Newark Fresh produce for sale grown on urban farms the Conservancy manages in the City.
Supporters say Public Question 2 will ensure stable funding for the preservation and care of open space, parks, farmland, historic sites and flood-prone areas by reallocating 4 percent of existing corporate business tax revenues that are already dedicated to environmental programs through fiscal year 2019, and dedicating an additional 2 percent of existing corporate business tax revenues from fiscal year 2020 going forward.
Open space, farmland and historic preservation programs received an average of $200 million annually under the 1998 Garden State Preservation Trust. Under the ballot question, preservation programs would receive approximately $71 million annually for the first four years, and then $117 million annually thereafter, providing reduced but critical baseline funding without raising taxes. In addition, approximately $30 million annually will be provided for programs to improve water quality, remove underground storage tanks before they leak and clean up polluted sites.
Additionally, for the first time ever, a provision for stewardship is included that will require some funds to go toward helping take better care of the parks and natural areas New Jersey already has. It will fund repairs, restoration and improvements to parks, natural areas and lakes, rivers and streams across New Jersey, which the ballot question's supporters say will make it easier for the public to visit and enjoy them.
“I was proud to sponsor this measure and urge my fellow citizens to vote yes for Public Question 2 on November 4,” concluded Assemblyman McKeon. “This funding is a necessary investment in our quality of life as well as our economy, as studies show that every $1 invested in state preservation programs returns $10 in economic value.”