Jersey Open Space Measure Cannibalizes Parks & Eco-Programs
Zeros Out Park Maintenance Money and Forces Layoffs in Waste & Water Programs
Trenton — A November ballot measure would amend the New Jersey constitution to siphon $10 billion out of park facilities maintenance as well as toxic site cleanup and state water infrastructure over the next 30 years solely to finance real estate purchases for open space. Billed as a “green” proposition, it would devastate bread and butter environmental programs while lining the pockets of some key proponents, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
With little debate about the impacts of the diversion of funds, the New Jersey Legislature placed a proposed constitutional amendment, the Open Space Preservation Funding Amendment, Public Question No. 2 on the November 4, 2014 ballot. It would direct a portion of corporate business tax revenues to open space, farmland and historic preservation from 2016 to 2045. To pay for that reallocation it would end the current dedication of corporate business tax revenues to environmental programs. Specifically it would:
- Strip State Parks & Historic Sites of their current ability to fund capital projects, such as building or repairing restrooms, roads, bridges and other projects. Dedicated funding would fall from $32 million per year to zero. There is currently a $400 million backlog of repairs, new construction and improvements to existing facilities in state parks and historic sites;
- Cut funding for state water resources programs and projects by two thirds, from $15 million a year currently down to $5 million; and
- Slash hazardous waste cleanup programs by more than half, from the current $53 million a year to $25 million.
“This is utterly irresponsible eco-policy cynically masquerading as an investment in our future,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, pointing out that it will likely trigger layoffs of state Department of Environmental Protection staff working in both waste and water programs. “Green Acres and open space preservation are good ideas but not to the exclusion of everything else.”
The measure is touted as a rebuke to the Christie administration which has allowed open space funds to run dry. This retaliatory diversion of funds locked into the state constitution smacks of overkill, however.
Ironically, after new open spaces are purchased they are usually handed over to State Parks to maintain, creating an ever-growing unfunded backlog. Adding insult to injury, some of the new open space funding would support “Stewardship” schemes that include commercial logging of state lands. In addition, a portion of funds may be used for salaries and expenses of groups that arrange open space purchases.
“This measure subsidizes a galling amount of self-dealing real estate deals” added Wolfe, noting that supporters label themselves the “Keep It Green Coalition.” “Some Keep It Green members are also focused on the green in their wallets.”
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