N.J. lawmakers consider constitutional guarantee to fund lead abatement effort

A child is tested for lead poisoning. New Jersey lawmakers are considering a constitutional amendment to guarantee a portion of the sales tax on paint sales in the state goes toward its lead abatement efforts. (AP file photo)

A child is tested for lead poisoning. New Jersey lawmakers are considering a constitutional amendment to guarantee a portion of the sales tax on paint sales in the state goes toward its lead abatement efforts. (AP file photo)

New Jersey lawmakers are considering a measure that would constitutionally dedicate $14 million a year from the sales tax on paint to cleaning up lead hazards in homes.

Since the state established a lead abatement program in 2004, more than $50 million has been diverted from its fund toward other uses.

And that’s sad, said state Sen. Ron Rice who wants to make sure there is no skimping on the effort to shield kids from lead poisoning.

“To do this to young people throughout New Jersey, it just annoys me,” said Rice, D-Essex. “I would like to think that this Legislature and the governor will put this in and let the people vote this thing so we can get this resolved once and for all.”

Making sure the program gets the money it’s entitled to is essential to preventing illness and a lifetime of dire consequences, said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.

“Lead paint actually to a young kid tastes very sweet. So ironically once a kid starts to eat lead paint, they usually tend to eat more of it,” he said. “Once lead is in the bloodstream of a young child, their development is permanently altered.”

Arnold Cohen, the senior policy coordinator for the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, agrees on the need to protect kids from lead hazards.

“Any amount of lead in a child’s system can hurt their development, their ability to learn, and to fully function later on in life,” he said. “It’s very efficient to prevent by doing inspection and testing rather than spending tens of thousands of dollars later on in treatment for a child.”

The proposed constitutional amendment would need the approval of the full Legislature by the end of August in order to appear on the November ballot.

New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel said that’s not likely to happen.

“Maybe for next year,” he said. “Unfortunately, that means they’ll still be stealing money this year. And now with this budget negotiation going down to the wire, every penny anywhere is going to be grabbed to try to avoid a government shutdown or pass a budget.”

Last year in New Jersey, elevated lead levels were found in 3,500 children.

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