The State We’re In: Let The Voters Decide

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Michele S. Byers

Michele S. Byers

by Michele S. Byers, executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation

We New Jerseyans are perpetually enthusiastic about preserving open space, farmland, parks and historic sites.

Thirteen consecutive times since 1961, citizens in this state we’re in have voted to fund the Garden State’s preservation programs. These programs have been hugely successful and have become a national model!

The most recent Green Acres referendum was in 2009, when voters endorsed a $400 million bond question. But that money has run out … every last dollar is either spent or allocated. Land preservation is about to slow to a crawl.

But New Jersey has not run out of land worthy of preservation – land that protects our drinking water supplies, grows our food and provides habitat for diverse wildlife are threatened. These are places of great scenic beauty, significant culture and history, and they provide valuable “ecoservices” like flood control and keeping our air clean.

In the current economic climate, it’s understandable that state officials are reluctant to take on new debt or add new taxes. But preserving critical natural lands and farmland now is a smart investment in New Jersey’s economic future and quality of life.

With that in mind, a proposal to use a small slice of the state’s sales tax revenue to fund land preservation is picking up bipartisan momentum in the state Legislature.
The New Jersey Senate Environment and Energy Committee sent the proposal out of committee to the full Senate this week, and seven Assembly members signed as bill co-sponsors. A vote of the full Senate and Assembly is needed before the Legislature leaves for the summer on June 30.

If the bill is successful, a public question will go on the Nov. 5 ballot asking voters to dedicate 0.2 percent of state sales tax revenues – equal to a one-fifth of a penny of the current sales tax – to land preservation for the next 30 years.

Sales tax revenue has been growing steadily – by about $200 million a year for the last two fiscal years. Revenue growth is expected to continue, since New Jersey will also add revenues from Amazon.com sales starting in July, so the annual growth should cover the percentage to be dedicated to preservation programs.

The new funding won’t kick in until fiscal year 2015, giving the state plenty of transition time. The proposal does not call for an increase in the 7-cent sales tax. And should sales tax revenues drop in the future, funding for open space preservation would be reduced accordingly.

This sustainable source of land preservation funding is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed! New Jersey is the nation’s most densely-populated state, and the first projected to reach full build-out – the point at which all land is preserved, developed or spoken for.

To protect our drinking water, food, wildlife, natural beauty and history, and ensure public safety, we need to keep preserving critical lands. It’s truly a matter of health and quality of life.

Add your voice to the call to let voters decide! Please contact the Senator and Assembly members in your district and urge them to vote for SCR138. To find your legislators’ contact information, visit www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/legsearch.asp.

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.


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