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With Budget Clock Ticking, Path to Preserve Open Space Remains Elusive

Environmentalists and lawmakers struggle to find way to fund Green Acres, without adding to debt load.

With Gov. Chris Christie scheduled to deliver the annual budget message later this month, the debate about how to fund new parks, preserve open space, and protect farmland from development is beginning to heat up.

Hoping to build a case for setting aside state revenue to preserve open space, a coalition of conservation groups yesterday purporting to show that outdoor recreation generates billions of dollars in revenue for New Jersey each year.

The study by the Outdoor Industry Association said that folks enjoying the great doors in the Garden State account for $17.8 billion in consumer spending annually; generate $6.1 billion in wages and salaries; and contribute $1.36 billion in state and local tax revenue, as well as directly creating 158,000 jobs.

The national study may offer some ammunition to a drive by the Keep It Green campaign to convince the state Legislature and Christie administration to set aside $200 million in sales tax revenue to be used to protect open space and preserve farmland.

The coalition is hoping the proposal (S-2560) is the preferred choice for open space preservation of three options pending in the Legislature. The other options include a $400 million bond issue (S-2530), which would be placed before voters in November, and a new tax on water consumption (S-813), which would cost residents about $32 more a year on their water bills.

All three approaches are problematic. With the state once again facing a big budget deficit in the new fiscal year beginning July 1, taking $200 million out of general revenues would likely necessitate deep cuts in other programs. Given the Christie administration’s record, some conservationist's fear that the ax would fall most heavily on the state Department of Environmental Protection.

While voters have always approved Green Acres bond issues, New Jersey lawmakers and the Christie administration are increasingly reluctant to contribute to the growing debt load. Borrowing the money to preserve open space also is much more costly than funding it on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Continue reading on NJSpotlight.com.

NJ Spotlight is an issue-driven news website that provides critical insight to New Jersey’s communities and businesses. It is non-partisan, independent, policy-centered and community-minded.

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