Thursday, December 18, 2014

Funding for Open-Space Preservation Troubles New Legislative Session

The issue of how to finance the preservation of New Jersey's open space, farmland, and historic structures flared up again yesterday in the Legislature, but neither side in a long-running impasse gave any hint of compromising.

Funding for Open-Space Preservation Troubles New Legislative Session

The issue of how to finance the preservation of New Jersey's open space, farmland, and historic structures flared up again yesterday in the Legislature, but neither side in a long-running impasse gave any hint of compromising.

With scant debate, the Senate Environment and Energy Committee voted out a measure (SCR-2) that would constitutionally dedicate up to $200 million a year out of the state’s sales tax revenues. The measure is identical to one passed previously by the panel and Senate in the last legislative session, which died in the Assembly.

But with no signs of the issue being resolved, the open-space program is virtually out of funding. That would leave few ways to help towns, counties, and the state to protect the more than 650,000 acres of high-value undeveloped land from being paved over, as well as 400,000 acres of farmland agricultural officials say need to be preserved.

Such an outcome might not only highlight the dysfunction of the Legislature on reaching a compromise, but also that of the environmental community in failing to come to consensus on the issue, a concern raised by Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the committee. “It didn’t show a great deal of leadership,’’ he said.

Others blamed Gov. Chris Christie for not delivering on a campaign promise in his first run for the state’s top elected office to come up with a stable source of funding for open-space preservation.

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