Once a Political Hostage, $59M for NJ Open Space Released

BY TIMES OF TRENTON EDITORIAL BOARD New Jersey voters have a robust history of supporting open-space initiatives, both on the municipal and the state level. Over the years, they have embraced 13 open-space referenda, allowing the state's highly respected Green Acres program to preserve 650,000 acres in our heavily populated state. Read more

Christie Conditionally Vetoes Bill Stopping from Taking Open Space Funding to Fund Other Programs

By James O'Neill (The Record) - May 25, 2016 The Legislature's ongoing battle with Governor Christie over how to use dedicated open space preservation funds took another turn Monday as Christie conditionally vetoed a bill that would have prevented him from using the money to cover state parks management in his budget.  Conservation advocates decried the move, saying that taking the money for plug holes in the state budget puts at risk the chance to protect sensitive land in North Jersey and elsewhere that should be preserved. Read more

The Holdup on Open-Space Spending? Christie Wants to Say Where Funds Go

Tom Johnson (NJ Spotlight) - May 10, 2016 While Christie and Legislature are locked in a standoff, important environmental projects are stalled or suspended. Preserving agricultural land in the Delaware Bay region. Protecting feeder streams to a major source of drinking water in the Highlands. Buying up undeveloped land in the Sourland Mountains. Those are some of the projects hoping for funding from an open-space initiative approved by voters 18 months ago -- if a bill awaiting Gov. Chris Christie’s decision is signed into law. Read more

State Lawmakers Warn Christie to Keep His Hands off Open-Space Funding

Tom Johnson (NJ Spotlight) Governor argues that money set aside for preservation programs can be used to pay for salaries and maintenance at state parks. The Legislature yesterday gave final approval to a bill that would allocate more than $140 million to fund long-stalled open-space and farmland preservation projects, setting up a possible confrontation with Gov. Chris Christie.  The bill (S-969) easily passed without debate in the Assembly, but it differs in one key aspect from how the governor wants to spend money from a 2014 ballot initiative that authorized using a portion of corporate business taxes for land-preservation program. Read more

Expend Open Space Funds the Way Voters Intended

Voters chose once again to overwhelming support preservation of New Jersey’s last remaining and precious open spaces, waterways, parks, farms and historic sites. In November, 65 percent of voters approved Public Question 2, dedicating a portion of existing corporate business tax revenues (CBT) to fund the now-depleted Green Acres, Blue Acres, Farmland and Historic Preservation programs. It is now time to ensure those funds are distributed according to the voter’s intent. Unfortunately, Gov. Chris Christie’s budget calls for using $20 million of voter-approved CBT funds to pay for over 300 state park management staff. Park management staff are critical to keeping New Jersey’s parks safe and open to the public, and those staff should be supported through the general fund as they have been in the past. Sens. Bob Smith, Christopher “Kip” Bateman and Assemblyman John McKeon have introduced legislation that takes a reasonable approach to allocating the limited funds available for preservation and stewardship for the next four years. Funding levels will rise in 2019 when the portion of existing CBT revenues dedicated increases from 4 percent to 6 percent, and as CBT revenues grow over time. Read more

Plans to divvy up state's open-space funds continue to raise a clamor

There’s the Assembly proposal, the Senate plan, and the administration’s approach -- none of which satisfy all interested parties The discussion on how to spend money from an open-space ballot question approved last November is growing more contentious. The Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee narrowly approved on Thursday its own version of a plan to divvy up the money, but it differs in many ways from a bill now moving through the Senate -- as well as from the Christie administration’s proposal in its budget for next year. But it’s not just legislators and the administration that are divided on how to split a smaller amount of money (at least $71million a year compared to as much as $200 million in past years); the environmental community also is at odds as to where the funds should be directed. The version (A-4206) approved by the Assembly committee provides more money for farmland preservation than has been traditionally allocated, less money for stewardship of public lands for nonprofit groups, and not enough money for capital expenditures at state parks, according to critics. Read more

Coalition seeks voter support to help keep New Jersey green with “yes” vote on Question 2

“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. Read more

N.J. open space advocates: Vote 'yes' on constitutional amendment

New Jersey voters should support a constitutional amendment that would allocate millions of dollars in corporate taxes for preserving open space, a bipartisan coalition pushing the plan said today. The coalition kicked off its “Yes on 2” campaign at the Greater Newark Conservancy’s Prudential Outdoor Learning Center, arguing that the amendment would create a stable source of funding for the open space program. A public question on the Nov. 4 ballot would amend the state constitution to guarantee that a percentage of corporate business tax would be earmarked for purchasing open tracts and preserving farmland and historic properties. "We need to let people know what's at stake – clean air and clean water," said Ed Potosnak, the executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. Read more

EDITORIAL: Voters to get a say on open space funding

Since 1961, more than 1.2 million acres in New Jersey have been preserved through open space funding. But the job of keeping precious land free from development is far from done. Thanks to a bill approved by the Assembly on Monday, come November voters will have the opportunity to make sure the work goes on. On Election Day, voters will be asked to approve a constitutional amendment that would provide a permanent funding mechanism for open space programs. Currently, 4 percent of business tax collections — around $100 million a year — is dedicated to various environmental programs. Read more

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