NJ lawmakers debate where to focus land-preservation funds

New Jersey lawmakers are questioning how some of the funds intended for open space preservation will be spent.

A constitutional amendment that New Jersey voters approved in November dedicates about a $100 million a year in corporate business tax revenues for preservation of open space, farmland, and historic sites.

Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin says the administration’s budget plan calls for about a fifth of that to be used to fund the Division of Parks and Forestry in the next fiscal year. “To cover operation and maintenance of the parks, most of that being salaries, to be able to keep those parks open and operated,” Martin said.

Senator Linda Greenstein says using the money for that purpose is debatable. “I think if you ask the average person on the street who voted for that, they would not want the stewardship part to mean routine salaries and that sort of thing,” Greenstein said.

Greenstein is concerned that will limit the amount of money that will be used to preserve land and historic sites.

Environmental groups claim the Christie administration is not considering climate change and sea level rise in rebuilding from Superstorm Sandy.

Martin took issue with that in testimony before the Senate Budget Committee. “I think you have to look at all the work we’ve done around planning going forward post-Sandy, everything from rebuilding beaches, elevating homes including requiring an additional one foot buffer above FEMA for elevating homes and all the rest,” Martin said.

In response to lawmakers questions, Martin says staffing levels have been stable for the past three years and there are no shortfalls in performing its functions. He says more technology is being used to get things done.

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