TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Bob Gordon which would provide for a one-time diversion of funds from the State’s “Shore Protection Fund” to pay for park operations in New Jersey was approved by the Senate today by a vote of 22-17, receiving final legislative approval.
“Earlier this year, when Governor Corzine proposed slashing park funding as part of a tough, no-frills State budget, the people of New Jersey rightfully demanded restorations,” said Senator Gordon, D-Bergen, and a member of the Senate Environment Committee. “Particularly in a year when gasoline prices are through the roof and families are seeking recreational opportunities closer to home, deep cuts in park services and operations would have been devastating. Through this measure, we’re giving parks a one-year delay in any cuts while we seek new funding sources in the next fiscal year.”
The bill, S-2043, would allow for up to $9 million from the “Shore Protection Fund” to be used in FY 2009 for defray the cost of operations and maintenance at State parks. The “Shore Protection Fund,” which was established in 1992, receives an annual appropriation of $25 million from the realty transfer fee. However, the fund has maintained a significant carry forward in unexpended revenue for the last ten years, and will begin FY 2009 with more than $68 million on hand – by way of contrast, the most paid out of the fund in the last ten years was nearly $32 million in FY 2002.
“The ‘Shore Protection Fund’ has maintained a healthy surplus, and funded at the FY 2009 levels, we could cover the costs of more than twice the number of shore replenishment projects we’ve done in our busiest year,” said Senator Gordon. “The fund can easily absorb a one-time diversion to help ensure that our State parks are fully-funded, and still fund every shore replenishment project that’s proposed for FY 09. This is a sensible approach to ensure that State residents aren’t greeted by padlocks and closed gates when they visit New Jersey’s parks.”
As an additional safeguard to ensure that there would be enough funding for next year’s beach replenishment projects, the Budget Committee amended the bill to ensure that if the fund falls below $20 million in FY 2009, that the $9 million used for parks would be replaced with additional revenue from the realty transfer fee.
In addition to the one-time funding from the “Shore Protection Fund,” the bill would require the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to conduct a study of park facilities, services and resources, and to establish a better business model to ensure that the State’s park system moves towards self-sustainability. Senator Gordon noted that without a willingness to explore new revenue options to help parks pay for themselves, the State’s park system would be vulnerable to underfunding in order to balance future difficult budgets.
“New Jersey needs to perform a soup-to-nuts review of our park resources, and identify a better way to fund services and maintenance at these facilities,” said Senator Gordon. “As we continue to try to set New Jersey on a course to live within its means, we need to look at how to make State services self-sufficient and identify dedicated revenue sources to protect funding in our darkest fiscal hour. This bill would direct DEP regulators to come up with a better business model for our parks, so we aren’t put in a position where park funding is in jeopardy in future fiscal years.”
The bill now Governor’s Desk to be signed into law. It was approved by the Assembly earlier today by a vote of 48-31.