Smith’s Open Space Funding Legislation Advances

Senator Bob Smith discusses the proposed Highlands Preservation Act with reporters

A resolution sponsored by Senate Environment and Energy Chairman Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, that would create a dedicated revenue stream for open space preservation for 30 years was approved today by the Senate Environment Committee.

“We must take this necessary step to ensure continued open space funding to protect against sprawl and overdevelopment and to preserve land for future generations,” said Senator Smith. “Through programs such as Green and Blue Acres, farmland preservation and historic preservation the state has been able to set aside hundreds of thousands of acres of land for the public’s well-being and enjoyment. Open space is imperative to protect the state’s drinking water, improve air quality and provide recreational space that improves residents’ quality of life.”

SCR-165 is a proposed amendment to the State Constitution that would ask voters to dedicate the lesser of $200 million or 2.4 percent of the sales tax revenue annually for the next 30 years for open space projects including Green and Blue Acres projects, farmland, historic preservation and stewardship projects.

Open space funding goes to acquiring and developing lands for recreation and conservation purposes, preserving farmland and funding historic preservation and Blue Acres projects. Green Acres has protected nearly 640,000 acres of open space in the GardenState since its inception.

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.

Open space funding can also be used for Blue Acres projects – a willing seller program that buys flood-prone land and land that buffers or protects other lands from storm damage. Senator Smith notes that long-term funding of this program is even more essential as climate change is causing “100 year storms” to occur at more regular intervals – such as Hurricanes Irene and Sandy – causing increased flooding in New Jersey’s coastal regions.

“Experts agree that Hurricane Sandy was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of severe weather patterns expected in New Jersey over the coming years,” said Senator Smith.  “And with these severe storms and rain will come an ever present need to rethink our state’s development strategies. The federal government’s commitment of $300 million towards Blue Acres funding is a great start, but if this legislation is approved by the voters, the state will be able to continue to purchase flood-prone land and provide relief to homeowners who are literally underwater.”

The measure was approved by Committee with a vote of 5-0. It now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further review.

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