Governor Christie conditionally vetoed S969/A780, the Preserve New Jersey Act, which would have provided the authorization and guidance to begin funding state, county, local and non-profit open space, farmland, and historic preservation programs consistent with the constitutional amendment passed in 2014 with 65 percent of voters’ support. After the Governor pocket vetoed implementation language at the end of last session, both houses of the Legislature prioritized this bill, and passed it again this year with strong bipartisan support.
"We are appalled by the Governor’s disregard for the will of voters," said Ed Potosnak, Chair of Keep It Green. "By conditionally vetoing this legislation, the Governor guaranteed New Jersey's important Green Acres, Farmland Preservation, and Historic Preservation programs will continue to be denied voter-dedicated funds to preserve lands that protect our drinking water, grow Jersey Fresh produce, create community parks, and preserve our historic sites," he continued.
"The reliability and predictability of funding, which voters supported and which would have been achieved if the bill had been signed, is central to the success of these programs," said Kelly Mooij, Coordinator of Keep It Green. "Without this legislation, preservation programs have had to delay or cut important projects and the State will be unable to develop long-term, strategic plans for wise investment. This flies in the face of the original purpose of the amendment, the well-established history of the program and could severely hurt the State in the long run," Mooij continued.
Governor Christie's veto memo noted his desire for greater 'flexibility' in the budgeting process and less "granular" detail from the Legislature.
"The Legislature has now twice put this bill on the Governor's desk and he has vetoed and conditionally vetoed this critical legislation because he wants 'flexibility'," said Ed Potosnak, Chair of Keep It Green. "This rationale is offensive to New Jerseyans who constitutionally dedicated these funds to preserve open space, farmland, and historic sites and to support stewardship programs. The voters supported the constitutional dedication in order to ensure funding wasn't subject to the year-to-year whims of politicians," Potosnak explained.
In FY2016, when no implementation language was passed, the Governor improperly used voter- dedicated funds to pay for park staff salaries, even after the Legislature removed authorizing language from his proposed budget and identified a different funding source. He has once again proposed using the funds for salaries this year.
"Both chambers of the Legislature rejected Governor Christie’s proposal to divert open space funds to plug holes in the DEP’s budget because it is inconsistent with the intent of voters," said Potosnak. "These funds are supposed to go to programs that preserve lands that protect our drinking water, grow some of the best produce in the world, and ensure our history is passed down to future generations. Without the guidance provided by the language in the Preserve New Jersey Act, Governor Christie raided the funds in FY2016 and is brazenly trying to use the funds for the same purpose again this year, which only reinforces the need for this legislation," he continued.
The Governor also criticized the lack of specifically enumerated funding for Blue Acres in the three year funding bill, despite the fact that Green Acres funds can be used to fund Blue Acres projects and that sufficient funds remain in the Blue Acres programs for buy-outs to continue at the current rate until the legislation sunsets.
"Blue Acres funding is a critical part of the preservation program and must be included in the long-term investment portfolio of the State. This implementation legislation would have provided guidance for disbursement of the CBT funds for the next three years only. At the current rate of buy-outs, the Blue Acres program will not run out of funding before this legislation sunsets." Said Kelly Mooij.
"The Governor is being disingenuous when he says Blue Acres is absent from this bill. He knows, or should know, the Green Acres funding included within this allocation can be used for Blue Acres projects. Additionally, when the CBT dedication increases from 4% to 6%, as supported by the voters in 2014, additional funds will become available. A portion of that increase should be dedicated to Blue Acres," added Ed Potosnak
In the more than 50 years of these legacy preservation programs, detailed implementation language has always accompanied or followed the dedication of new funds. Every previous Governor, Republican and Democrat, who was presented with implementing legislation, signed the bills.
"The Governor has, in an unprecedented fashion, ignored the will of the voters and rejected the bipartisan effort put forth by the Legislature to reliably, transparently and predictably provide funding for vital preservation programs," said Mooij. "We plan to investigate all options to ensure the constitutionally-dedicated monies are released to fund these critical programs as the overwhelming majority of New Jerseyans intended," she concluded.