Preservation Programs Could Pick Up $80M from Bill Poised for Passage

Tom Johnson | January 11, 2016 | Energy & Environment
Constitutional amendment to create stable source of funding continues to pay dividends for environmental initiatives

heron open space
Approximately $80 million will be allocated from corporate business taxes this fiscal year to finance preservation programs for open space, farmlands, and historic sites under a bill expected to win final passage today.

The legislation (S-2769) marks the latest appropriation resulting from a constitutional amendment approved by voters in November 2014 to create a stable source of funding for such programs.

If adopted by the Assembly, this year’s allocation would slightly boost funding for farmland and historic preservation while not setting aside any specific amount for the state’s Blue Acres program, which aims to buy flood-prone properties, including homes.

The bill has bipartisan support, but it is not without critics. Besides the lack of money for Blue Acres, the legislation provides no specific set-aside for urban acres, but allocates funds for stewardship programs administered by nonprofit conservation groups.

“We oppose this bill because its priorities are wrong,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This bill is taking money where it should be and putting it where it’s not needed.’’

But most conservation groups back the bill, saying it is important for the Legislature to implement the legislation before the current term ends tomorrow.

“This means funds for parks, open-space, farmland and historic preservation are being collected, but are not being released throughout the state as voters intended,’’ the New Jersey Highlands Coalition said in a statement of support for the measure. Others called it a fair compromise in how the money will be spent.

Under the bill, 61 percent of the money would go to the state’s Green Acres program ($51.3 million); 31 percent to farmland preservation ($24.8 million); and 5 percent to historic preservation ($4 million).

Of the Green Acres money, $28.3 million would be used for state acquisitions and development; $19.5 million would go to local governments; $3.6 million in grants to nonprofit organizations.