Trenton — Tomorrow, Governor Jon Corzine will unveil a smaller budget for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) despite an expanded list of tasks for the agency to perform. The effect of these DEP budget cuts will be compounded by the Governor’s call for major new policy and program initiatives and will undoubtedly aggravate significant historical operating and capital infrastructure deficits for basic pollution control in New Jersey, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
As presented by DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson to the Assembly Budget Committee tomorrow, Tuesday March 27 at 10:00 am, Governor Corzine’s proposed FY 2008 state budget calls for a 4.3% cut in DEP funding. This reflects a $10.6 million cut in the Department’s capital construction funds and a flat operating budget of $233 million. This flat operating budget represents a significant functional funding cut, given contractual increases in employee salaries and benefits and other cost increases due to inflation.
The DEP budget represents less than 5% of all state agency operating budgets and just 0.7% of the total $33.9 billion state budget. Total contributions from the taxpayer-backed General Fund are considerably less than these percentages because approximately half of DEP revenues come from federal funds and fees and fines from polluters.
Despite proposing a shrunken budget, Governor Corzine has recently signed legislation, issued Executive Orders, and/or made public commitments to new environmental program initiatives in global warming, coastal protection, flood mitigation, chemical plant security and new toxic protections at day-care centers and new school sites. These priority initiatives will require significant new resource commitments.
“Real environmental protection that goes beyond rhetoric costs real money,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst. “If this was Texas, the Governor’s environmental spending plan would be described as ‘big hat, no cattle.’”
At the same time, New Jersey faces huge unfunded deficits for basis environmental protection, including:
- DEP has identified a $12 billion capital needs deficit for water quality infrastructure to meet federal Clean Water Act standards, including sewage treatment plant upgrades, storm-water systems and flooding controls;
- Cleanup of thousands of toxic waste sites is delayed due to insufficient funds; and
- More than 300 old municipal and industrial landfills have not been closed as required by DEP regulations and continue to pollute ground water, drinking water supplies, and air quality.
“There is no apparent explanation in the Governor’s plan as to how he intends to close these pollution deficits while launching complicated new initiatives,” Wolfe added, noting that PEER will continue pressing as to whether and how existing deficits will be met. “New Jersey’s environmental programs must be financed to at least the Buick level before we begin daydreaming about Ferraris.”
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability