With the clock running out to get a conservation funding measure on the ballot this November, the New Jersey Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation on June 26 to dedicate existing corporate tax revenues to land, water, park, farmland and historic preservation programs.
The measure must also be approved with a super-majority vote in the Assembly in order to go to the voters in November. The deadline is August 2. The bill is not yet posted for a vote, but bipartisan support is growing, with 30 Assembly members, including nine Republicans, signed on. A June voter survey showed that the legislation has strong public support.
“The Senate vote demonstrates the broad, bipartisan support for this issue, and to providing New Jersey voters with the opportunity to choose to renew open space, farmland, and historic preservation funding on the ballot this November,” said Tom Gilbert, chairman of NJ Keep It Green, a coalition of more than 185 park and conservation advocates. The Trust for Public Land Action Fund hosts the coalition’s legislative advocacy campaign.
The measure reallocates to land conservation the 4 percent of existing Corporate Business Tax (CBT) revenues already dedicated to environmental programs. It ensures that there is no direct impact on the state budget for the next five fiscal years.
Of the 4 percent of the CBT, nearly 71 percent would be dedicated to the depleted Green Acres, Blue Acres, farmland and historic preservation programs, with the balance going to programs to improve water quality and clean up polluted sites. After five years, the dedication of existing CBT revenues would increase to 6 percent, with the percentage for conservation programs increasing to 78 percent.
New Jersey, the most developed state in the country, has pressing conservation needs and a long history of strong land conservation programs for open space and farmland conservation, flood protection, parks, and historic preservation. But the last funding measure was in 2009, and these programs are out of money.
A draft report by the state Department of Environmental Protection found that the state still needs to preserve 650,000 acres to protect water quality, provide parks and other recreational opportunities, and support the economy, and to protect at least 400,000 acres of farmland to maintain a viable agriculture industry.
An overwhelming 76 percent of voters support the actual proposed ballot language, according to the recent poll. Support cuts across demographic and political groups, with 85 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of Republicans, and 74 percent of Independent and other voters in support.