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Sustaining New Jersey's Commitment to Parks, Open Space, Clean Water, Farmland and Historic Preservation

NJ Keep It Green represents more than 185 statewide, local and regional organizations committed to land conservation, agriculture, historic preservation, environmental protection, urban parks, hunting and fishing, and other forms of outdoor recreation, working together to sustain funding for the preservation and stewardship of New Jersey's waterways, wildlife habitat, natural areas, farmland, forests, parks and historic sites for our quality of life and future generations.

NJ Keep It Green led successful campaigns to pass statewide ballot measures in 2006, 2007 and 2009 generating $600 million for state open space, farmland and historic preservation programs, as well as dedicated annual funding for capital improvements to state parks and other public lands. With funds from the 2009 bond act set to run dry in 2012, we are in the midst of a Sustainable Funding Campaign to secure a sustainable source of funding for the preservation and stewardship of New Jersey's natural, recreational and historic treasures for generations to come.

We hope you will join us in this important effort!

July 6, 2014

 

EDITORIAL: N.J. voters should have a say in open space, farmland preservation funding

 

Express-Times

 

What's the harm in letting New Jersey voters weigh in on a plan to replenish the state's open space and farmland preservation programs?

Granted, this wasn't the most pressing issue that arose in the run-up to the Legislature's summer recess last week. The adoption of a new budget — beset by disagreement over new taxes and the postponement of yet another pension payment — back-burnered everything else on the agenda.  A Senate-passed bill to free up open space funding — a bipartisan compromise that wouldn't raise taxes — was left hanging by the Assembly, all but assuring that it won't make the deadline for a public referendum in November.

 

It's easy to see how constructive ideas can get lost in the polarized atmosphere in Trenton. Anything having to do with taxes, pensions and Gov. Chris Christie's national profile are flashpoints of disagreement between the parties.  On Monday Christie signed a new budget, vetoing a package of Democratic-supported tax increases and slashing payments to the public employee pension system to deal with revenue shortfalls. Each side castigated the other for shortsightedness in dealing with the state's endemic, long-running financial problems.

 

In the middle of this turmoil, Sens. Kip Bateman, R-Somerset, and Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, came up with a formula to refill the state's empty preservation coffers — a constitutional amendment that would channel a percentage of the state's corporate business tax to pay for preservation for farmland, open space and historic sites, and for the "Blue Acres" program that has helped people sell and move from flood-prone properties. The proposal would generate $71 million a year by reallocating 4 percent of the corporate business tax, gradually increasing the share to 6 percent in 2020, when it would bring in $117 million.

 

The idea is far from perfect. Environmentalists noted that it would take money away from the cleanup of brownfields sites. Many property owners in the Highlands area are still wondering why the state hasn't followed through on a dedicated source of funds to deal with diminished property values.   Yet the public's desire to protect the state's open spaces and counter development pressure is evident; Garden State voters have consistently given their consent to preservation funding. This proposal would have put that question before them, restructuring an existing tax rather than shoveling more onto an already heavy burden.

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June 26, 2014

 

SUPER MAJORITY OF NEW JERSEY SENATE PASSES OPEN SPACE LEGISLATION

 

Open Space Question on Track for November Ballot, Assembly Action Still Needed

 

TRENTON, N.J. – Today, a bipartisan super-majority of the New Jersey Senate passed legislation to dedicate existing corporate business tax revenues to continue critical land, water, park, farmland and historic preservation efforts.  The legislation was approved overwhelmingly by a vote of 36-1.

 

“The Senate vote demonstrates the broad, bipartisan support for this issue, and to providing New Jersey voters with the opportunity to choose to renew open space, farmland, and historic preservation funding on the ballot this November,” said Tom Gilbert, chairman, NJ Keep It Green. “We thank Senator Smith and Senator Bateman for their commitment and tenacity, and Senate President Sweeney for his steadfast leadership.  We commend all the Senators who supported the bill and recognize the importance of land, water and historic preservation efforts to the health of our communities and economy.”

 

In order for the question to appear on the ballot this November for voter’s consideration, the Assembly must also approve the measure by a super-majority vote by August 2nd.  Bipartisan support for the legislation is growing in the Assembly, with thirty sponsors and co-sponsors, including nine Republicans. Assembly leadership has not yet posted the bill for a vote.

                                                         

Under the proposal, 4% of existing Corporate Business Tax (CBT) revenues already dedicated to environmental programs would be reallocated to ensure continued funding to the depleted Green Acres, Blue Acres, farmland and historic preservation programs, as well as programs to improve water quality and clean-up polluted sites.  In FY2020, the dedication of existing CBT revenues would increase to 6%.  The legislation was amended to ensure that there is no direct impact on the state budget for the next five fiscal years. 

 

“This bill is a fiscally-conservative approach that, if approved, will generate critical baseline funding for preservation programs that protect sources of drinking water, support efforts to minimize flooding, keep the garden in the Garden State by preserving farmland, and protect our historic sites,” said Kelly Mooij, coordinator, NJ Keep It Green.  “It enjoys broad and bipartisan support, and the public deserve a chance to vote on it.”

 

Polling results released this week demonstrate that New Jersey voters, across the board, strongly support the proposal. The survey found that an overwhelming 76% of voters support the actual proposed ballot language.  Support cuts across demographic and political groups, with 85% of Democrats, 63% of Republicans, and 74% of Independent and other voters in support.  In addition, 69% of voters consider it an extremely or very high priority, and 78% want the Legislature to put it on the ballot and let the voters decide.  The telephone survey of 600 likely voters, conducted by the bipartisan polling team of FM3 and Public Opinion Strategies, took place June 17-19.

 

The NJ League of Municipalities, The NJ State Federation of Women’s Clubs, the NJ Highlands Council, and 18 counties have passed resolutions supporting sustainable funding for preservation and stewardship.

 

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June 25, 2014

 

Inquirer Editorial: Open Space Worth Cost 

 

An umbrella is not a luxury in a rainstorm. But one need not have the latest hand-stitched couture umbrella when something less expensive will do.

Open-space advocates have wisely chosen the less expensive approach to giving land acquisition a steady funding source during New Jersey's prolonged fiscal slump.

Sens. Bob Smith (D., Middlesex) and Christopher "Kip" Bateman (R., Somerset) are sponsoring legislation to shift a percentage of the corporate business tax revenue being spent on other environmental programs to purchase fields, forests, farms, historic sites, and flood-prone areas.

Restructuring tax laws, which requires a referendum on a proposed constitutional amendment, may not be ideal, but it does provide a pragmatic, fiscally responsible way to mitigate storm damage and control flooding in the nation's most densely populated state.

New Jersey has literally lost ground in the battle to preserve land, which is essential to reducing damage not only from moderate storms but also extreme weather events, which have increased in frequency, putting more lives and property in jeopardy.

The bipartisan Senate bill would provide about $71 million a year for four years and subsequently about $117 million a year. That's still less than the $200 million a year New Jersey has provided for land acquisition in the past 15 years.

The bill's chances are less certain in the Assembly, where other recent open-space funding proposals have died for lack of attention. What Gov. Christie will do is also a question mark. He was downright hostile to a plan last year to divert sales-tax revenue to open space, and he persuaded all but two Republican senators to kill that idea.

The new plan won't require bonds, which means the state would save millions in debt-service costs. There is a risk in diverting revenue to land acquisition that is now used to remediate brownfields and clean up hazardous spills. But that risk would be offset if the state becomes more aggressive in making polluters clean up the messes they make.

The state also needs to consider other ways to finance open-space acquisition, says the Sierra Club's Jeff Tittel. For example, it could charge more for private use of public land. It may be time to rethink the deep discounts utilities get to run lines and raise towers on public land. After all, they also benefit from land acquisition that helps protect the state from overbuilding.

To get the business-tax idea on the November ballot, the Legislature must pass the measure before it recesses in July. If Christie vetoes the call for a referendum, the Legislature should override him. New Jersey voters have historically supported open-space measures. They should get to weigh in on this proposal.

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June 23, 2014

 

POLL FINDS OVERWHELMING SUPPORT FOR DEDICATING PORTION OF CORPORATE BUSINESS TAX FOR OPEN SPACE PRESERVATION

 

TRENTON, N.J. – Sponsors of open space legislation joined NJ Keep It Green and other environmental leaders today to release the results of a new survey that found that a sizable majority of New Jersey voters support dedicating a portion of existing corporate business tax (CBT) revenues to fund open space, farmland and historic preservation programs.

 

The legislation (SCR84/ACR130) is sponsored by Senator Bob Smith, Senator Christopher “Kip” Bateman, and Assemblyman John McKeon, with 13 additional sponsors and co-sponsors on the Assembly bill.  Under the proposal, 4% of existing corporate business tax revenues already dedicated to environmental programs would be reallocated to ensure continued funding to the depleted Green Acres, Blue Acres, farmland and historic preservation programs, as well as programs to improve water quality and clean-up polluted sites.  In FY2020, the dedication of existing CBT revenues would increase to 6%. 

 

The survey found that an overwhelming 76% of voters support the proposal when read the actual proposed ballot language.  Support for the Corporate Business Tax (CBT) dedication cuts across demographic and political differences, with 85% of Democrats, 63% of Republicans, and 74% of Independent and other voters in support.  The telephone survey of 600 likely voters took place June 17-19 and was carried out by the bipartisan polling team of FM3 and Public Opinion Strategies.

 

“The results of this survey make clear that New Jersey voters of all stripes understand the critical importance of protecting clean and plentiful drinking water, providing parks that improve quality of life, and preserving farms and historic treasures,” said Tom Gilbert, chairman of NJ Keep It Green. “The voters should be given the opportunity to decide on continuing New Jersey’s tradition of investing in parks and preservation.”

 

The survey found that 69% of New Jersey voters feel that the proposal to ensure continued funding for open space, farmland and historic preservation, as well as flood-plain and watershed protection and clean-ups of polluted sites is an extremely or very high priority.  Furthermore, 78% of voters think the Legislature should put the measure on the ballot to let the voters decide, while only 14% think they should not.

 

“These results affirm that this is the right approach to funding these efforts and we should put it on the ballot so that voters can have their say on this,” said Senator Bob Smith.  “This is a very modest proposal that will not impact the state budget for the next five years, and will not increase taxes, fees or debt.  Our children and grandchildren will thank us for preserving New Jersey’s land, water and history for generations to come.”

 

"The environment should never be a partisan issue," said Senator Kip Bateman.  "It's time to move this bill and fund preservation. New Jersey needs funding to assist people that suffer from repeated flooding and also to protect our drinking water supplies. This approach to preservation is a fiscally conservative and responsible approach to protecting our water and environment.”

 

"Continuing preservation in New Jersey is a wise investment that will avoid increased costs for water treatment and repairing flood damage, and support several of the state’s largest industries such as agriculture and tourism,” said Assemblyman John McKeon.  “The survey found that 80% of voters who live in cities are in support, which reflects the critical role that Green Acres has played in creating and improving urban parks, which supports construction and other jobs, and helps to revitalize our cities.” 

 

New Jersey voters have repeatedly demonstrated support for open space, farmland and historic preservation funding, passing 13 out of 13 ballot measures since 1961.  The NJ League of Municipalities, The NJ State Federation of Women’s Clubs, the NJ Highlands Council, and 18 counties have passed resolutions supporting sustainable funding for preservation and stewardship.

 

The Legislature must act before recessing for the summer in order to refer the measure to the November ballot.  With voting sessions scheduled on June 26th and June 30th, there is still time for votes to occur in both chambers.

 

“We are hopeful that the Legislature will recognize that this is a priority issue for voters, and the overwhelming support for this proposal,” said Gilbert.  “Voters should be given the opportunity to decide this.  New Jersey simply can’t afford to abandon decades of successful open space, park, farmland and historic preservation efforts.”

 

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June 14, 2014

 

EDITORIAL: Put Open Space Bond on Ballot

 

Asbury Park Press

 

The state is running out of time to let the people of New Jersey decide on a dedicated funding source for open space acquisition this summer. What should be a no-brainer is being held up by the inaction of the state Assembly and the silence of Gov. Chris Christie.

 

New Jersey has already run out of open space money. The 2009 voter-approved, $400 million state funding for open space preservation has been expended. New Jersey still has more than 1 million acres of open space that should be preserved to protect our quality of life, and with the economy slowly improving and developers looking to build, the need to come up with a long-term funding source is essential.

 

Legislation sponsored by Senate Environment and Energy Committee Chairman Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, would provide such a source, although at levels much lower than in the past. Smith’s bill, which would ask voters to provide long-term, stable funding for open space projects, was approved last week by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

 

The constitutional amendment would shift an already dedicated earmark of corporate business tax revenue to include funding for open space programs such as Green and Blue Acres, and historic and farmland preservation projects. The bill would maintain a 4 percent dedication from the corporate tax until 2019. Starting in 2020, it would increase to 6 percent.

 

In order for the question to appear on the ballot in November, this sensible compromise plan needs to be approved by a three-fifths super-majority in both the Senate and the Assembly. And the clock is ticking on the June 30 deadline. This should be a slam dunk. Open space acquisition is one of the issues around which there has been bipartisan public support. Both the Legislature and Christie have pledged to come up with a long-term funding mechanism for open space acquisition. They need to do it now.

 

Public support for open space acquisition has a long history. 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. That money has been spent.Last year, two separate proposals to fund open space died in the Legislature. One would have dedicated as much as $200 million annually for 30 years from the state’s sales taxes. The other called for a new $200 million bond referendum.

 

Sen. Smith’s proposal is a fiscally responsible plan to continue funding open space and thereby assist in slowing the creeping sprawl in New Jersey. From 1996 through 2009, New Jersey spent roughly $235 million per year in funding for open space projects. If Smith’s bill gets on the ballot and is approved by voters in November, it would generate about $71 million in open space funding a year through 2091, and about $117 million thereafter.

 

With the state facing a $2.8 billion budget shortfall, everyone knows money is tight. This proposal reflects that harsh reality.

While the bill is now before the full Senate, the Assembly has yet to take it up, and Republicans in the Assembly may be waiting to see what Christie thinks of the proposal. The clock is ticking.

 

According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, to date more than 1.2 million acres have been preserved through open space funding. But the state can’t simply say the job is done. New Jersey’s economy is improving, albeit slowly.

 

If the state doesn’t find the money soon, more and more land will be scooped up by developers.

Gov. Christie should be applauding Sen. Smith’s proposal. Smith recognizes the fiscal restraints the state faces and he has come up with a solution that provides much-needed funding, using an existing funding source. It is modest and the voters deserve a chance to weigh in on the proposal come November.  Christie and the Legislature should make sure the voters get that chance.

 

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June 8, 2014

 

Editorial: A Businesslike Compromise on N.J. Open Space

 

Star-Ledger Editorial Board 

New Jersey’s broke and scrimping for pennies, so there’s no chance lawmakers would divert $200 million worth of sales taxes to pay for open space and farmland. Even before the state fell into its near-billion-dollar budget hole, a constitutional amendment committing annual buckets of cash for a single purpose was a bad idea.

 

The smartest solution, we’ve said before, is a water fee. If voters want to pay more to protect open space from developers — a fee would cost each household about $32 a year — they’ll probably say “yes.”

 

But there’s little appetite among voters — and zero in the governor’s office — for new fees or taxes. And as the state’s credit rating plummets toward junk-bond levels, an open space program feels, for the moment, like an expensive luxury.

 

That’s why Thursday’s downsized compromise could be the fix we need.

 

The Senate Budget Committee approved a measure from Sens. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) and Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-Somerset), asking voters to dedicate a percentage of the state’s corporate business tax to replenish the funds for open space, farmland and historic preservation, and buy out flood-prone home­own­ers.

 

The constitutional amendment is a downshift from earlier measures, which first called for using $200 million a year in sales tax revenues, then for diverting $150 million in corporate business taxes. Now, the new proposal raises just $71 million a year, by diverting 4 percent of the corporate business tax, starting in 2016. By 2020, it rises to 6 percent and raises at least $117 million.

 

Environmentalists praised the vote, though it siphons money that now restores brownfields, underground tanks and hazardous sites. Gov. Chris Christie’s approval is required, too, which is by no means certain.

 

“This is far from perfect,” the Sierra Club’s Jeff Tittel said, “but given the serious budget constraints we have, this is the best we can do.”

 

For New Jersey’s densely developed landscape, preservation of open spaces, farmland and historic properties is worth paying for, even when money’s tight.

 

Ideally, lawmakers would warm up to the water fee — it’s a more honest, pay-as-you-go solution. But at least they’ve moved past the risky diversion of sales taxes or, even worse, borrowing the money.

 

If this measure makes it to November ballots, history shows it will pass. It’s far from a perfect solution, but it will help refill our flat-broke open space funds without saddling taxpayers with unneeded debt.

 

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May 8, 2014

 

NJ KEEP IT GREEN STATEMENT IN RESPONSE TO GREEN ACRES FUNDING ANNOUNCEMENT

TRENTON, N.J. – NJ Keep It Green, the state’s largest coalition of conservation, agriculture and historic preservation advocates, today issued the following statement from chairman Tom Gilbert in response to the announcement by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that $100 million will be available for Green Acres open space preservation and park development projects:

 

While some funds being made available for the Green Acres Program is welcome news that will help to address some pressing park and preservation projects that are sorely in need of funding, this represents only a partial funding round for Green Acres, and no funds are available to address farmland and historic preservation needs.

 

“This is a piecemeal, stop-gap approach to preservation funding that does not change the fundamental problem – state open space, farmland and historic preservation programs are lacking an adequate and stable source of funding despite the fact that DEP has identified more than one million acres that still need to preserved, according to the draft State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.

 

“Even when Green Acres enjoyed more consistent funding, the program could only meet 23 percent of the requests from local governments and non-profits for land acquisition and park development funds. DEP has been able to cobble together a partial funding round to address some short-term needs, which is better than no funding, but New Jersey’s preservation programs are essentially on life support unless and until there is action to ensure adequate and reliable funding is in place going forward.”

 

“And while federal funding can help to address the short-term needs for buy-outs, there is no long-term source of funding for the Blue Acres Program to address the significant needs to purchase and restore flood-prone lands along the coast and rivers that have suffered repeated flood damages.

 

“State leaders need to act this year to establish a sustainable source of funding so that adequate and reliable funds will be available to address critical park and preservation needs throughout the state going forward.” 

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March 22, 2014

 

STATE AND LOCAL LEADERS ADDRESS PRESERVATION NEEDS DURING 18th ANNUAL NJ LAND CONSERVATION RALLY

                                                                 

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Longtime open space champions Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex, Somerset) and Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex, Morris) today joined other state and community leaders in addressing New Jersey’s land preservation needs during the 18th Annual NJ Land Conservation Rally at Rutgers University in Piscataway.

 

“New Jersey’s open space preservation programs are in crisis,” said Smith, chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. “There is no money left. The bank is empty. However, New Jersey has more than one million acres that still need to be protected. I remain committed to finding a long-term, stable source of funding to ensure that we preserve our land before it is too late.”

 

McKeon, vice chairman of the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee, said: “The preservation of open space not only enhances our quality of life, but is key to New Jersey’s long-term economic health. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Legislature to advance funding for open space preservation and protect our land, air and water for today’s generation and future generations.”

 

The NJ Land Conservation Rally is a one-day educational conference about preserving New Jersey’s open space and farmland. The conference is organized by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and other partners.

 

Smith and McKeon made their comments during the conference’s Lightning Round session, sponsored by NJ Keep It Green. Other participants included Kinnelon Mayor Robert Collins; New Jersey Farm Bureau President Ryck Suydam, Steve Caldwell of Campmor Sporting and Outdoors Stores; Ben Spinelli, professor of Sustainability Studies at Kean University, and Elizabeth Newton, president of Rutgers University Naturalist Club. 

 

“State funding for open space, farmland and historic preservation has long helped municipalities across New Jersey leverage dollars to create parks, preserve our family farms and protect our historic treasures,” said Collins. “Without matching funds, local governments will be forced to scale back their activities, putting park and open space projects, and all the benefits they bring, at risk.”

 

Investments in open space bolster local economies and help control the cost of municipal services such as water filtration and stormwater control.  They also help maintain property values, improve the health of communities and enhance and protect quality of life. 

 

In addition to identifying at least 650,000 acres of open space that still need to be preserved in New Jersey, state officials have said at least 400,000 acres of farmland need to be protected in order to maintain a viable agriculture industry, the third largest in New Jersey.

 

“New Jersey farms provide families access to safe, healthy and locally grown food,” said Suydam. “Agriculture contributes billions of dollars to the state economy and supports tens of thousands of jobs.  We must invest in farmland preservation if we want to continue to be known as the Garden State.”

 

Caldwell, of Campmor Sporting and Outdoors Stores in Paramus, discussed the importance of parks and open space to New Jersey’s outdoor recreation and tourism industry.

 

“My company and countless other local businesses depend on people having access to parks and open space where they can hike, bike, kayak, look for wildlife and just enjoy the outdoors,” said Caldwell. “From a strictly business perspective, long-term funding for land preservation is a smart investment with great returns.”

 

Caldwell cited a report by the Outdoor Industry Association that found that outdoor recreation in New Jersey generates $17.8 billion in consumer spending, $6.1 billion in wages and salaries, $1.3 billion in state and local tax revenue and 158,000 direct jobs.

 

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March 17, 2014

 

NJ KEEP IT GREEN OPTIMISTIC AGREEMENT WILL BE REACHED ON LONG-TERM OPEN SPACE FUNDING

 

TRENTON, N.J. – NJ Keep It Green, the state’s largest coalition of conservation, agriculture and historic preservation advocates, today said it was optimistic that an agreement will be reached on long-term funding for open space, park, farmland and historic preservation and voters will be allowed to have their say this year.

 

“NJ Keep It Green appreciates the bipartisan leadership from Senators Smith and Bateman to advance sustainable funding for Green Acres, Blue Acres, farmland and historic preservation efforts,” said Tom Gilbert, chairman of NJ Keep It Green. “With all funds from the 2009 bond measure fully allocated, there is a real urgency to find an approach to sustainable funding that can move forward in both the Senate and the Assembly this year.”

 

The Senate Environment and Energy Committee today voted 4-1 to advance newly introduced legislation (SCR84) that would ask voters to approve dedicating 6 percent of Corporate Business Tax revenues for open space, farmland and historic preservation.  The proposal would generate approximately $150 million annually for preservation and stewardship programs.

 

“SCR84 would provide a sustainable source of funding for preservation and stewardship over the next three decades, which is essential in order to meet the pressing preservation needs facing the Garden State,” Gilbert said. “However, the Coalition has concerns about the loss of funding that is currently dedicated to other environmental and park needs.” 

 

Four percent of the Corporate Business Tax revenues are already dedicated for other environmental programs and would be diverted for preservation and stewardship programs under the proposal.

 

“We are committed to working with legislative leaders to identify additional funds to address these needs, including park capital improvements, watershed management and underground storage tank removal,” Gilbert stressed. 

 

It is also the Coalition’s position that funds from Natural Resources Damages settlements should continue to be reinvested in the same areas where the environmental damages occurred. These funds are not an appropriate way to pay for statewide preservation needs and would not generate enough reliable funding to address these needs.

 

A draft report by the state Department of Environmental Protection entitled the State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan indicates at least 650,000 acres still need to be preserved to protect water quality, provide parks and other recreational opportunities, and support the economy. In addition, at least 400,000 acres of farmland must be protected to maintain a viable agriculture industry.

 

The report also highlights the importance of recreation and parks to the quality of life in New Jersey and to redevelopment initiatives, especially in urban areas. Green Acres has more than 1,100 park development projects in every county of the state.

 

The report acknowledges that a long-term, stable funding source will be required to meet New Jersey’s current and future conservation and recreation needs, especially as New Jersey’s population continues to grow and the public demands for parks and open space increase.

 

“As this process moves forward, NJ Keep It Green is optimistic an agreement will be reached that will allow voters to have their say this year,” said Kelly Mooij, coordinator of NJ Keep It Green. “We will continue to work with Senate and Assembly leaders to secure sustainable funding for vital land, water and historic preservation efforts, while also ensuring funding to address other important environmental and park needs, including stewardship of lands and parks that are already protected.”

 

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March 14, 2014

 

NJ KEEP IT GREEN PRAISES SUSSEX COUNTY FREEHOLDERS FOR SUPPORTING LONG-TERM PRESERVATION FUNDING

 

TRENTON, N.J. – NJ Keep It Green today praised the Sussex County Freeholders for adopting a resolution that supports establishing sustainable funding for the preservation and stewardship of open space, parks, farmland and historic sites throughout New Jersey.

 

Passage of the resolution brings the number of counties that have adopted resolutions in support of dedicated open space funding to 18 – nearly all of the 21 counties in the state.

 

“NJ Keep It Green thanks the Sussex County freeholders for understanding that protecting New Jersey’s open space, farmland and historic sites is of critical importance,” said Tom Gilbert, NJ Keep It Green chairman.  “With elected leaders in nearly all of the counties in the state supporting sustainable funding for New Jersey’s preservation programs, the Senate and the Assembly must find a way to establish long-term funding for Green Acres, Blue Acres, Farmland and Historic Preservation.”

 

The following are just a few example of how preservation funding has benefited Sussex County:

  • Nearly 600 land acquisition and park development projects have been supported through the Green Acres program, helping to preserve more than 55,000 acres of open space.
  • State funds enabled Sussex County to purchase 350 acres of land in Stillwater Township that linked Swartswood State Park with Trout Brook Wildlife Management Area.  Today, the protected open space includes 4,340 acres that provide habitat for numerous wildlife species, including the bobcat and black bear.
  • More than 130 farms, or nearly 15,000 acres, were preserved with funds set aside for farmland preservation.

“Preserved land, water and historic sites have provided numerous quality of life and economic benefits to residents in Sussex County and all of New Jersey,” said Kelly Mooij, coordinator of NJ Keep It Green.  “This resolution in favor of long-term support for preservation programs should remind legislators that they have a responsibility to maintain New Jersey’s legacy of preservation by ensuring that Green Acres, Blue Acres, Farmland and Historic Preservation continue today and in the future.” 

 

A draft report by the state Department of Environmental Protection entitled the State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan indicates at least 650,000 acres still need to be preserved to protect water quality, provide parks and other recreational opportunities, and support the economy. In addition, at least 400,000 acres of farmland must be protected to maintain a viable agriculture industry.

 

The report also highlights the importance of recreation and parks to the quality of life in New Jersey and to redevelopment initiatives, especially in urban areas. Green Acres has provided funding for parks and recreation development for decades, and has awarded nearly $120 million to local governments and conservation organizations between 2008 and 2012.

 

The report acknowledges that a long-term, stable funding source will be required to meet New Jersey’s current and future conservation and recreation needs and indicates that:  “Despite having one of the strongest state open space and recreation funding programs in the nation, New Jersey has demonstrated a consistent funding shortfall in meeting its public conservation and recreation needs.”

 

With funds from the 2009 bond issue fully allocated, there is no new money in the pipeline for New Jersey’s Green Acres, Blue Acres, Farmland Preservation and Historic Preservation programs.

 

In addition to Sussex County, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Monmouth, Middlesex, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Union and Warren counties have all passed similar resolutions supporting sustainable open space funding as have the NJ Highlands Council and the New Jersey State League of Municipalities. 

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January 27, 2014

 

LONG-TERM OPEN SPACE FUNDING BILL MOVES FORWARD IN NEW LEGISLATIVE SESSION

 

TRENTON, N.J. – NJ Keep It Green, the state’s largest coalition of conservation, agriculture and historic preservation advocates, today thanked the Senate Energy and Environment Committee for making long-term open space funding a priority in the new legislative session.

 

The Coalition praised Sens. Bob Smith and Christopher “Kip” Bateman for their bipartisan sponsorship of SCR-2, which would ask voters to dedicate a small percentage of sales tax revenues for open space, farmland and historic preservation efforts. The Senate passed a nearly identical bill in the legislative session that ended earlier this month, but the Assembly failed to vote on the measure.

 

The Senate Energy and Environment Committee today supported the legislation with a 4-1 vote. 

 

“Today’s action shows that the Senate remains fully committed to establishing a sustainable source of funding for open space, farmland, parks and historic preservation programs statewide and recognizes that a stopgap measure is not the answer,” said NJ Keep It Green Chairman Tom Gilbert. “We urge the Assembly to work with the Senate on sustainable funding so that New Jersey can meet its critical preservation needs and protect its long-standing legacy of successful land, water and historic preservation efforts.”

 

A draft report by the state Department of Environmental Protection entitled the State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan indicates at least 650,000 acres still need to be preserved to protect water quality, provide parks and other recreational opportunities, and support the economy. In addition, at least 400,000 acres of farmland must be protected to maintain a viable agriculture industry.

 

The report also highlights the importance of recreation and parks to the quality of life in New Jersey and to redevelopment initiatives, especially in urban areas. Green Acres has provided funding for parks and recreation development for decades, and has awarded nearly $120 million to local governments and conservation organizations between 2008 and 2012.

 

The report acknowledges that a long-term, stable funding source will be required to meet New Jersey’s current and future conservation and recreation needs and indicates that:  “Despite having one of the strongest state open space and recreation funding programs in the nation, New Jersey has demonstrated a consistent funding shortfall in meeting its public conservation and recreation needs.”

 

With funds from the 2009 bond issue fully allocated, there is no new money in the pipeline for New Jersey’s Green Acres, Blue Acres, Farmland Preservation and Historic Preservation programs.

 

“Without a sustainable funding source in place, these programs and the economic and quality of life benefits they provide will be left to wither on the vine and die,” said Kelly Mooij, coordinator of NJ Keep It Green. “New Jersey voters have long supported open space funding. It is time to let them decide.”

 

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January 13, 2014

 

NJ KEEP IT GREEN: ASSEMBLY MISSES OPPORTUNITY FOR LONG-TERM OPEN SPACE FUNDING

 

Coalition Calls Upon Lawmakers to Make Sustainable Funding a Priority in New Legislative Session

 

TRENTON, N.J. - NJ Keep It Green, the state's largest coalition of conservation, agriculture and historic preservation advocates, today expressed disappointment in the Assembly's failure to act on legislation that would ask voters to dedicate a small percentage of sales tax revenues for open space, farmland and historic preservation efforts.

 

The Senate on Thursday passed the bill with overwhelming, bipartisan support by a 29-8 super-majority vote. The Assembly, however, failed to post the measure for a vote today, the last day of the current legislative session.

 

"We are disappointed that the Assembly missed this opportunity to put in place a fiscally responsible, sustainable funding source to protect our drinking water, preserve our farms, create more parks and safeguard our historic treasures," said NJ Keep It Green Chairman. "This is one of the few times since 1961 that New Jersey is without a source of funding for preservation programs despite the critical needs that have been identified across the state."

 

A recently released draft report by the state Department of Environmental Protection indicates at least 650,000 acres still need to be preserved to protect water quality, provide parks and other recreational opportunities, and support the economy. In addition, at least 400,000 acres of farmland must be protected to maintain a viable agriculture industry.

 

The report acknowledges that a long-term, stable funding source will be required to meet New Jersey's current and future conservation and recreation needs. 

 

"Despite the success of the New Jersey's preservation efforts, there continues to be a funding shortfall with more than 75 percent of Green Acres grant requests going unmet," said Kelly Mooij, NJ Keep It Green coordinator. "NJ Keep It Green is redoubling our efforts to work with the Governor and leaders in the Senate and Assembly to come up with a viable plan to ensure sustainable funding for land, water and historic preservation efforts in the new legislative session."

 

A full version of the draft 2013-2017 New Jersey Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan can be found at http://www.nj.gov/dep/greenacres/pdf/Public_Review_SCORP.pdf

 

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January 9, 2014

 

NJ KEEP IT GREEN PRAISES SENATE FOR APPROVING OPEN SPACE FUNDING BILL BY SUPERMAJORITY

 

TRENTON, N.J. – NJ Keep It Green, the state’s largest coalition of conservation, agriculture and historic preservation advocates, today praised the Senate for voting in favor of legislation (SCR165) that would ask voters to dedicate a small percentage of sales tax revenues for open space, farmland and historic preservation efforts.  The Senate approved the bill with overwhelming and bipartisan support by a supermajority vote of 29-8.

 

“We are grateful for the Senate’s continued leadership on this issue,” said NJ Keep It Green Chairman Tom Gilbert.  “The leaders and members of the Senate have again demonstrated their commitment to establishing a long-term dedicated source of funding for critical land, water and historic preservation efforts.

 

“In light of the overwhelming Senate support, we hope the Assembly will reconsider its position and post the bill for a vote on Monday.” Gilbert added.

 

The legislation proposes to ask voters to support an annual sales tax dedication of either 2.4 percent or $200 million – whichever is less – for preservation programs including Green Acres, Blue Acres, Farmland Preservation and Historic Preservation.

 

The legislation provides safeguards to ensure that annual preservation funding is tied to actual revenues and will not exceed $200 million annually, the average amount that New Jersey has dedicated each year for more than a decade.

 

With sales tax revenues projected to grow by more than $400 million annually, preservation efforts would be funded using less than half of the growth in revenues. This would leave more than $200 million in new funds available each year to address other needs without taking away from any other programs.

 

“This is the right approach,” said Gilbert.  “Stop-gap funding efforts will not address the significant long-term preservation needs that have been identified, or create stability for a program that requires planning and sustained investment over time.”

 

The Senate vote followed the recent release of a draft report by the state Department of Environmental Protection that indicates at least 650,000 acres still need to be preserved to protect water quality, provide parks and other recreational opportunities, and support the economy.

 

The draft report titled “2013-2017 New Jersey Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan” indicates that between 2008 and 2012 the Green Acres Program received $1.6 billion in requests from local governments and non-profits for land acquisition and park development projects, and awarded $367 million (23% of requests).

 

“Despite having one of the strongest state open space and recreation funding programs in the nation, New Jersey has demonstrated a consistent funding shortfall in meeting its public conservation and recreation needs,” the draft report states.

 

The report also states: “The preservation of land for conservation, public and recreation purposes will require (a) long term stable funding source along with a concerted planning and acquisition effort.”

 

The report is prepared every five years by the DEP’s Green Acres Program to maintain the state’s eligibility to

receive funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, administered by the National Park Service.

 

In addition to identifying more than 650,000 acres of high quality open space that needs to be preserved statewide, other key findings include:

  • More than 400,000 acres of farmland need to be preserved to reach the 600,000 acres recommended to sustain agriculture as a viable New Jersey industry. 
  • New Jersey remains the most densely populated state in the nation with a population in 2012 of 8,864,500, an increase of 450,240 since 2000. New Jersey has 1,025 people per square mile compared to a national density of 87 people per square mile.
  • As New Jersey’s population increases, the amount of open space required to satisfy recreational needs and to perform other vital functions, such as aquifer recharge for water supply purposes, will increase.
  • A total of 333,551 residential building permits were issued between 2000 and 2012, an average of about 26,000 a year.
  • The long-term dedication of funds for land preservation and recreation is a major factor in sustaining New Jersey’s nearly $40 million tourism industry.
  • Land preservation can provide protection from future storms like Hurricane Sandy. The Blue Acres program can acquire flood prone homes and create open space for storm mitigation.  Nearly 184,000 acres of federal, state and local public open space was inundated from the Hurricane Sandy storm surge.
  • There are a total of 4,968,980 acres of land in New Jersey according to DEP 2007 land use data. There are a total of 1,529,097 acres of preserved open space and farmland, comprising 30 percent of New Jersey. Another 1,593,853 acres or 32 percent, consisted of developed lands according to DEP 2012 land use analysis. This leaves 1,846,030 acres available for future land preservation and development.                                                                                                                   

“The health of our communities and economy depend on investments in preserving open space, water supplies, farmland and historic sites over the long term,” said Kelly Mooij, NJ Keep It Green coordinator.  “This legislation provides a fiscally responsible and viable way of doing that.”

 

A full version of the draft 2013-2017 New Jersey Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan can be found at http://www.nj.gov/dep/greenacres/pdf/Public_Review_SCORP.pdf

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