New Jersey To Vote On Constitutional Amendment For Land Preservation

NJ farm w kids- TPL photoOn August 4, the last day to send a referen

“The Assembly clearly understands the critical importance of investing in programs that protect our water supply, preserve our family farms, provide for parks and other spaces, and safeguard our historic treasures,” said Tom Gilbert, chairman of NJ Keep It Green, the coalition of 185 organizations working to create long-term, dedicated open space preservation and stewardship funding for New Jersey. The Trust for Public Land Action Fund hosts the advocacy effort of NJ Keep it Green.

If approved by the voters, the amendment will reallocate to open space programs 71 percent of the four percent of state corporate business tax revenues already dedicated to environmental programs. Beginning in fiscal year 2020, it will dedicate an additional two percent of revenues to open space and environmental programs from that existing tax. The amendment will generate about $71 million annually for open space for the first five years, and $117 million in subsequent years, providing reduced but critical baseline funding. Approximately $30 million annually would go to other environmental programs that protect clean water.

The constitutional amendment will replenish the Green Acres program, one of the most successful state land conservation programs in the country. In addition, funding would go to the Blue Acres program to acquire land prone to flooding, as well farmland and historic preservation programs. It would also continue funding for watershed protection, underground storage tank removal, brownfields, and clean-ups of polluted sites.

Since its establishment in 1961, the Green Acres program has helped preserve over 650,000 acres of open space in New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the country. It is one of the state’s most popular taxpayer-funded programs, receiving broad public support because of its tangible results and direct benefits from tax dollars.

Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex/Morris) called the Assembly resolution “a declaration that we respect the land and water our children and grandchildren will inherit.”

New Jersey voters have never rejected a land conservation measure, passing all 13 ballot measures funding open space, farmland, and historic preservation since 1961. However, this will be the first permanent, dedicated funding mechanism for land conservation, and recent measures passed with much slimmer margins than in previous years.

Open space conservation in New Jersey has traditionally been funded through short-term voter-approved bond measures, leaving funding gaps, as happened when the most recent $400 million bond ran out in 2013. Allocation of the corporate business tax revenue will create sustainable funding that is not reliant on borrowing money. Passage of the measure will also provide certainty for local communities that on state matching funds for land conservation projects. Green Acres provides a 50 percent matching grant to local governments with an open space tax and a 25 percent match to those without one. All 21 counties and over 250 municipalities have established an open space tax by voter referendum. Passage of the constitutional amendment will assure the availability of matching funds and further leverage state dollars.

For more information and to get involved in campaign to pass the Clean Water, Open Space, Farmland and Historic Preservation Amendment, go to NJ Keep It Green.
Photo by John Rae.