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Chris Christie’s 2016 presidential ambitions kill N.J. open space vote

 (Cartoon by Rob Tornoe)

(Cartoon by Rob Tornoe)

New Jerseyans overwhelmingly support both marriage equality and open space funding, but Chris Christie remains a one-man speed bump, single-handedly preventing both from happening. 

I’ve written many, many times before about the cynical governing style of Chris Christie, which can be summed up as “noun-verb-Sandy.” While playing a Jersey Boy and hamming it up for the national media, back home the state suffers from policies aimed primarily at furthering his political career. New Jerseyans, sadly, seem to always play second fiddle to Christie’s presidential ambitions.

The latest example of this dynamic in play is the defeat of the push to put open space funding as a ballot question during November’s elections. The proposal, which would have allocated up to $200 million a year worth of sales-tax revenue and dedicated it to purchasing open space—farms, flood-prone properties and historic sites—didn’t gain enough votes to be placed on the ballot. It got 22 votes but needed 30 to reach the three-fifths of the N.J. Senate to make it onto November’s ballot.

A similar proposal (which was also more costly) passed the Senate back in June by a huge margin, 36-2. So what changed?

Christie opposed the measure for unspecified reasons. The bill’s sponsor, Bob Smith, accused the governor of calling Republican lawmakers and “threatening their political lives” if they voted in favor of the bill. Obviously, the pressure worked as several Republican senators flipped their vote, while others didn’t even bother to cast a vote. What a profile in courage.

Why was Christie opposed to a measure that’s fairly uncontroversial and has proven popular with voters and politicians from both sides of the aisle? By funding open space preservation using just 1/35 of the total revenue that comes in from sales taxes, the ballot initiative would have eliminated the need to continue borrowing the funds via bonds. And the new bill was more conservative and less costly than the previous one, which passed with overwhelming support.

Plus, as noted by the N.J. Keep it Green coalition, for every $1 invested in land-preservation efforts, the return is $10 in economic value to the state through nature’s goods and services, including flood control and water filtration, which would otherwise have to be paid for by taxpayers.

So why was it killed? Enter national politics.

This might not be news, but Republicans don’t seem to care too much about the environment. So by killing an open-space ballot initiative, Christie is checking off two items from his conservative to-do list: nixing spending, and extending a middle-finger to those annoying greenies who keep warning us about global warming and the need to go solar. Nevermind that Christie plans on using the sales-tax revenue to help balance his budget—it will still be played as saving taxpayers money.

There’s also a parallel to be made between open space funding and marriage equality. In both, Christie is a one-man speed bump, holding back two important initiatives that are overwhelmingly supported by New Jerseyans. Christie allowed gay marriage to be decided by voters on the ballot, so why not open space funding?

This week, Christie and his family are vacationing at the governor’s beach house at Island Beach State Park. So while Mr. 2016 is enjoying the rich and relaxing environment offered by one of the largest reserves of undeveloped barrier islands in the country (open space purchased by the state to preserve in 1953) maybe the fresh, salty air will clear Christie’s head and enlighten him about the importance of open space funding. I hope he at least realizes the irony.

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Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. See more of his work at RobTornoe.com, and follow him on twitter @RobTornoe.

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