NJ open space funding measure devotes bulk to Green Acres program

    Legislation introduced in the New Jersey Assembly Thursday created rules for parceling out open space funds in the Garden State.

    About $71 million of corporate business taxes will be set aside annually for the next four years following a constitutional amendment made law by voters in November.

     

    The funds will replace repeated voter-approved bonds in the state.

     

    “The bad news is that it’s less than we’ve had on an annual basis before; the good news is that it’s forever,” said state Sen. Bob Smith, author of the draft Senate bill that’s identical to the Assembly version and will be introduced later this month. 

    About two-thirds of the funding would go to the Green Acres program to purchase and protect open space, including funding public parks.

    “When we had our hearing on this, that was a top priority. Every group that came in said, ‘Keep the parks funding in the allocation,'” Smith said.

    The funding percentage dedicated to buying out flood-prone property was decreased because the state plans to use $300 million of federal Sandy-recovery money toward that purpose.

    The constitutional amendment has angered some environmental activists because it decreases constitutionally mandated spending on polluted site remediation and water quality monitoring.

    New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel argues the legislation in its current form continues a long trend of overlooking urban areas.

    “We believe that since most of the money for funding open space is coming from programs that benefitted urban areas,” Tittel said, “we felt there should be a set-aside for urban areas as we do in our open space legislation for protecting watersheds or other things.”

    Sam Pesin, president of the Friends of Liberty State Park in Jersey City, echoed Tittel’s sentiments.

    “There is an inequity of funding distribution,” Pesin said. “It’s so disproportionate how much money goes to farmland and suburban areas.”

    The funds breakdown in the draft legislation:

     64 percent to the Green Acres fund for acquisition and protection of open space
     29 percent for farmland preservation
     4 percent to the Blue Acres fund for acquisition of flood-prone property
     3 percent for historic preservation

    The allocations will be redrawn when funding increases to about $121 million a year in 2020.

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