In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie recently signed bills allocating over $200 million in conservation funding for Green Acres, Blue Acres and farmland preservation programs. At face value, of course, this is excellent news. But this round of funding was the last of a $400 million bond approved by a 2009 referendum. At this moment, there are no solid plans to fund additional conservation and open space work in the Garden State.
Last Monday, February 4th, Senator Bob Smith and the Senate Energy and Environment Committee held a hearing to discuss three possible funding mechanisms for conservation. Those included a water-user fee, a bond, and a sales tax dedication. The room was packed, with some speakers pouring out into the hall. All but one person spoke in favor of finding funding for conservation work, though they differed on where to find the money. The majority of speakers called for the sales tax dedication.
AMC joined members of Keep It Green, including Audubon Society, Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association, Preservation New Jersey, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, and others in calling on legislators to set aside at least $200 million a year through a dedicated portion of sales tax revenue. This is the average amount of money that New Jersey has spent annually in the past, and would represent about 2.4% of the total sales tax revenue. In addition, we called for 10-20% of the money to be set aside for stewardship costs - work like invasives removals, trail maintenance, and renovations to historic landmarks. The sales tax dedication represents a long-term and sustainable solution, whereas a bond would eventually dissipate like the 2009 bond money did. The water user-free had possibilities, but would only provide $150 million, a 25% reduction from average annual spending on conservation.
We'll continue to work alongside our partners to ensure that the New Jersey Highlands, as well as the rest of the Garden State, has adequate funding to protect open space for recreation.