New Jersey has a longstanding legacy of protecting the environment and preserving open space that dates back to the establishment of the Green Acres program in 1961.
Since then, elected leaders from both sides of the aisle have recognized the importance of investing in Green Acres and other preservation programs to help protect our water supply and support our local and state economies.
As former governors — a Democrat and a Republican — we are proud to have contributed to New Jersey’s open space legacy through initiatives like the Pinelands Protection Act and the protection of hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands across the state.
These and other initiatives have helped keep New Jersey economically competitive by ensuring our state remains a place where people want to live, work and visit.
But while New Jersey has continued to make great strides over the past several decades, we are now in crisis. There are zero funds left for farmland and historic preservation and the Green Acres program has less than one full round of grant funding remaining.
The preservation programs that we as New Jerseyans have long valued are facing certain death unless the Assembly acts now to save them.
We urge lawmakers, when they return to Trenton for a special session on Thursday, to vote on bipartisan legislation (SCR84) to establish sustainable funding for the preservation and stewardship of New Jersey’s open spaces, parks, waterways and historic sites.
The legislation would reallocate 4 percent of corporate business tax revenues — approximately $100 million annually — that are already dedicated to environmental programs through fiscal year 2019 and dedicate an additional 2 percent of existing corporate business tax revenues from fiscal year 2020 going forward.
This is a well-reasoned and fiscally responsible compromise that would provide a dedicated source of funding for park and preservation efforts without any direct budget impact until 2020.
Open space, farmland and historic preservation programs have received an average of $200 million annually since the establishment of the Garden State Preservation Trust in 1998. Under this legislation, preservation programs would receive $71 million annually for the first five years, and then $117 million annually thereafter, providing reduced but critical baseline funding.
Without action, more than one million acres of remaining open space and farmland at risk of being lost forever, threatening the safety of our drinking water and undermining the economic benefits associated with our parks, farms and open spaces.
The ramifications will be felt throughout the state, including in urban neighborhoods like Newark and Camden, where our children and families desperately need and deserve more playground and green spaces where they can gather and play safely. There is little question that parks and open spaces are key components to successful urban renewal and improving the quality of life for residents.
It is also important to note that for every dollar invested in state preservation programs, $10 is returned in economic value through nature’s goods and services, such as water filtration and flood control, and supports key industries such agriculture and tourism.
Keep in mind that as we experience more frequent and intense storms such as Hurricane Sandy, open space and wetlands will play an increasingly important role in absorbing rainwater and runoff and mitigating costly flood damage.
Given the enormous needs and tremendous benefits, New Jersey can ill afford to let its preservation programs die.
The Senate advanced the legislation to the November ballot by a vote of 36-1 on June 26.
We urge the Assembly to pass the bill before it’s too late so that we can save New Jersey’s preservation programs, remain economically competitive and continue the legacy that has made New Jersey a national leader in open space protection.
Brendan T. Byrne served as New Jersey’s governor from 1974 to 1982. Tom Kean served as New Jersey’s governor from 1982 to 1990. Share your opinion at nj.com/opinion.