Assembly Members Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey have signed-on as sponsors of legislation aimed at preserving constitutionally-dedicated funding meant to protect open space from development from being siphoned-off to pay state salaries.
The Preserve New Jersey Act (A-780/S-969) would ensure the intent of the voter-approved 2014 constitutional amendment, which dedicated a portion of the state's Corporate Business Tax revenues to open space preservation, is protected. The measure would safeguard $146 million over the next two years in funding for open space, farmland, and historic preservation.
"Monmouth County is blessed with beautiful open spaces and historic farmlands that are a part of the character and history of our communities," said Downey (D-Monmouth), "Voters supported this amendment because they recognized the need to preserve our quality of life not just for today, but to preserve these lands for future generations."
"Farmland preservation in particular is crucial to our county's family farmers, who drive the local economy," said Houghtaling (D-Monmouth), a member of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, "Farmland lost to developers can never be replaced. We need to protect and invest in farming communities and ensure their ability to provide for the rest of us, for the benefit of the entire state."
The legislation, which has already passed both houses of the Legislature with overwhelming margins, would provide $146 million worth of funding through 2019 for preservation of farmland and open space for recreation, agriculture, and conservation. The largest portion of that funding would be used for acquiring lands under the state's Green Acres program, which includes lands that protect our state's precious water supplies. One-third of open space funding would be dedicated to retention and development of New Jersey's farmland as a matter of high public priority.
Last year, Governor Chris Christie diverted $20 million from the open space program to pay salaries at state parks -- money which has traditionally come from the state's general fund. Christie's proposed Fiscal Year 2017 budget, which would take effect July 1, would repeat the raid of the funds. In March, the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services issued a legal opinion concluding that the diversion of open space funding to pay state salaries was not authorized.
"We have seen time and again the problems that arise when politicians sick their hands in the cookie jar to raid money and break promises they made to taxpayers," said Downey, "Voters supported this amendment because it was a promise that money meant for preservation would go to preservation. That the governor would so blatantly abuse that trust is astonishing."
"It's one thing to mess with the Legislature's intent, but it's another thing entirely to mess with the explicit wishes of the more than 900,000 New Jerseyans -- and nearly 84,000 Monmouth County voters -- who supported this amendment in 2014," said Houghtaling, "The governor should sign this bill, and do right by the New Jerseyans who voted for and will benefit from this funding."