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Environment Committee Approves Smith-Sponsored Open Space Funding Legislation

Senator Bob Smith, listens to testimony during the Senate Environment Committee.

Measure Would Ask Voters to Use Corporation Business Tax Revenue Towards Green & Blue Acres, Historic & Farmland Preservation

TRENTON – The Senate Environment and Energy Committee today moved legislation sponsored by Chairman Bob Smith that would ask voters to set aside a portion of taxes collected from New Jersey businesses to preserve open space in New Jersey.

“Since the inception of the state’s open space programs, New Jersey has preserved hundreds of thousands of acres of parks and forests, beaches, rivers and lakes and farmland. These programs have bettered our water supply, improved our air quality and increased the quality of life for New Jersey’s families and children. Yet, we continue to punt on determining a sound, long-term funding source that will ensure these programs can continue to run for years to come,” said Senator Smith, D-Middlesex and Somerset. “It is time that we come together and find a solution that does not put undue pressure on taxpayers, yet supplies these programs with a reliable source of funding that will allow for long-term planning and stability.”

The constitutional amendment, SCR-84, would, for the next 30 years, dedicate six percent of the Corporation Business Tax revenues towards open space funding including green acres, blue acres, farmland preservation and historic preservation.

The amendment would also cancel the current constitutional dedication of four percent of the Corporation Business Tax revenues for environmental purposes that has been in place since the 1990s. Instead, under the amendment, programs such as upgrading, replacing and closing underground storage tanks that store hazardous substances and the remediation of hazardous substances would be funded through the normal annual appropriation process.  The amendment would also dedicate revenue from fines collected from violations of environmental laws for these environmental programs.

“The reality of this legislation is that we are only asking voters to dedicate an additional two percent of the existing corporation business tax towards environmental programs. And by using the CBT, we are not asking voters to pay with new taxes, but rather are using an existing revenue stream. This is such a small price to pay for continued preservation of our state’s open spaces,” said Senator Smith.

Open space funding goes to acquiring and developing lands for recreation and conservation purposes, preserving farmland and funding historic preservation and Blue Acres projects. As of 2010, open space programs have protected more than 640,000 acres of land in the GardenState.

In the past, New Jersey voters have funded open space projects through bond acts, approving them by large margins 13 times since 1961. Most recently, New Jersey voters in 2009 approved a $400 million bond act, all of which has now been appropriated. According to a Fairleigh Dickinson PublicMind poll, 83 percent of New Jersey residents approve of public funding for open space and preserved farmland.

The constitutional amendment was approved by the Committee with a vote of 4-1. It now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further review.

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