TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Bob Gordon which will provide for a one-time diversion of funds from the State’s “Shore Protection Fund” to pay for park operations in New Jersey was signed into law today by Governor Corzine.
“New Jersey’s parks represent valuable natural resources and recreational opportunities to be shared by all the people of the State,” said Senator Gordon, D-Bergen, and a member of the Senate Environment Committee. “Particularly in a year in which gas prices are exceeding $4 a gallon, New Jersey’s citizens depend on world-class recreational facilities closer to home. Through this law, we’ve guaranteed that when New Jerseyans go to visit one of the State’s pristine parks this year, they won’t be greeted by padlocks and ‘No Trespassing’ signs.”
The new law, S-2043, will 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 from the fund in the last ten years was nearly $32 million in FY 2002.
“New Jersey has a responsibility to protect and preserve our Shore, but we also have a responsibility to provide for the recreational needs of all of our residents,” said Senator Gordon. “The ‘Shore Protection Fund’ has maintained a healthy surplus over the last decade – to the point that we now have more than double what we spent in the most expensive year in the Fund’s history. A one-time diversion of funds makes fiscal sense as we seek to make the most out of limited State resources.”
As an additional safeguard to ensure that there will be enough funding for next year’s beach replenishment projects, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee amended the bill to ensure that if the fund falls below $20 million in FY 2009, that the $9 million used for parks will be replaced with additional revenue from the realty transfer fee.
In addition to the one-time funding from the “Shore Protection Fund,” the bill will 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.
“While we’ve postponed tough budget decisions regarding park funding this year, we need to take the initiative to prepare for next year, and every budget year after that,” said Senator Gordon. “DEP officials need to look at all options for recurring revenue sources, to put our parks on surer financial footing without making them unaffordable for New Jersey’s families. We want to get the State park system to the point where it’s insulated from budget shortfalls and funding cuts, so that it can continue to be a resource to be treasured by generations of New Jersey residents still to come.”
The bill was approved by both the Senate and Assembly last week.