New Jersey residents won’t get to vote this November on a constitutional amendment that would have provided $200 million annually for 30 years for open space preservation.Two Democrats vacationing out of state were going to fly back so there would be the necessary 24 votes for a voter referendum this year. That plan was called off after Assembly leaders said they would not post the bill for a vote this Thursday. The measure’s primary sponsor, Democratic Senator Bob Smith, is hoping the Assembly eventually joins the Senate in approving the bill by a simple majority. “The right thing at this point if they won’t post it on Thursday is to post it before the end of the session, hopefully as soon as possible, so that we can have the second vote next year and put it on next year’s ballot,” said Smith.
He says $300 million in federal Sandy aid designated for the acquisition of flood-prone property will barely scratch the surface. “The second-highest priority in the open space acquisition program is flood-prone property,” said Smith. “So if you want to make a storm resilient New Jersey this was the way to do it by providing stable funding every year for open space.”
Seeking long-term funding
Senate President Steve Sweeney says the Assembly leadership is indicating it prefers more borrowing for open space projects, but he says it’s more important to have a stable long-term source of funding. “They just don’t agree with the bill, and I think they’re talking more a bond referendum,” said Sweeney. “We think a permanent funding source is more important, and they need that to do the bill.”
Sweeney is urging the Assembly act by the end of the legislative session to join the Senate in passing the measure by a simple majority. “Let’s make it easy,” said Sweeney. “Give me 41 and let’s do in again in January and it goes on the ballot and the money will be there which this bill was planned to be there anyway which is 2015.”
Outlook from Republican Senators
Senator’s Diane Allen and Kip Bateman are the two Republicans who voted for the bill. Allen believes the bill provides a funding mechanism that works to preserve open space. “I’m an advisor to the National Trust in Washington. This is historic preservation dollars. I have homes in my district that were hit by the storm. This has Blue Acres money. I have farms that still need to be preserved. It’s open space. So for me it’s an easy vote,” said Allen.
Bateman says it’s disappointing that the governor’s office doesn’t want it to go before the voters. “We had two public hearings on this, and we didn’t hear much from the administration throughout the process,” said Bateman. “I’m one of the co-sponsors and then at the last minute for them to call me up and say they’re concerned about putting this on the ballot. I tell you I was a little bit taken back by that.”
He thinks the governor’s office doesn’t want to be strapped with a $200 million expenditure every year.
“They want to have input in that and I understand that,” said Bateman. “He makes the policy. It’s his budget, but I also that think the positives outweigh the negatives in something like this.”
If the Assembly also approves the measure by a simple majority by the end of the legislative session, and lawmakers approve it again next year, the amendment could be on the 2014 ballot.