Explainer: Why N.J. might raid environmental programs to pay for open space

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Is it right to take money from environmental clean-up programs to buy open space? That is the dilemma facing lawmakers in New Jersey.

Protecting open space is a high priority for residents in New Jersey, which has the highest population density in the nation. Since 1961 voters have consistently approved using bonds to protect more farmland and fields. But there’s a feeling this year that voters might not be in the mood to approve more state spending.

Given this, how does one find a permanent funding source for an open space program? That’s what Democratic state Senator Bob Smith is trying to achieve by amending the state’s constitution. The plan, which would require voter approval, would allow a portion of the corporate income tax, set aside for environmental programs, to help fund open space and other programs.

Tom Johnson at NJ Spotlight has written about Senator Smith’s plan and describes what programs are at risk and what programs in addition to open space would benefit. 

It would drain money currently dedicated from taxes used to pay for a variety of environmental programs — cleaning up leaking underground storage tanks, funding water quality management programs, and financing improvements to state parks. The proposal also would divert money from other funds collected from polluters for restoring wetlands and other sensitive environmental areas.

I talked with Johnson who is covering the progress of this bill. He says most of the environmental groups are behind this effort but they are concerned about whether what this would mean for water quality testing and other programs targeted under the plan. Johnson says Senator Smith’s bill will likely be amended to address these concerns. 

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