$10M Lead-Abatement Program to Come Out of Affordable Housing’s Pocket

Tom Johnson | April 7, 2016 | Energy & Environment
With dedicated tax on paint already set up to fund abatement efforts, legislators question the necessity of diversion

lead paint
The Christie administration plans to tap into the state’s affordable-housing funds to finance an additional $10 million for lead-abatement programs in low- and moderate-income households in New Jersey.

In an appearance before the Assembly Budget Committee, State Treasurer Ford Scudder said there is an excess of money in the state’s realty-transfer fund, which is used to pay for building affordable-housing units and associated expenses.

The national outcry over lead contamination in the water supply of Flint, MI, followed by high levels of lead found in the water at dozens of schools in Newark, has caused concern about the toxic metal to skyrocket.

In New Jersey, the Legislature sought to put aside an additional $10 million to combat lead problems in early January, but the bill was pocket vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie.

Legislators welcomed the additional funds going to prevent exposure to lead — above and beyond the $10.7 million the administration has already devoted to the problem in the current budget — but questioned why a special tax set up in 2003 is not paying for the effort.

At that time, a law was enacted to impose a 50-cent per container tax on paint to establish a lead-hazard control-assistance fund, noted Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester).

“This lead appears to be a problem. We shouldn’t be scrambling to find this money,’’ said Burzichelli, who, as vice-chairman of the committee, has been a persistent critic of diversion of funds from specially established programs to pay for other purposes, typically to plug holes in the state budget.

Christie announced the new lead-spending initiative on Tuesday, saying the money would come out of the general fund. He also said it was impossible to track how much money was raised for the fund from the paint tax, since the state does not break down sales-tax revenue by products sold.

Burzichelli asked why the funds for the lead-abatement efforts failed to appear in the state budget, but Scudder attributed it to the appropriation being a part of the annual budget process.

Referring to the diversion of funds from programs they originally were intended to finance, Burzichelli noted the administration is once again taking $114 million out of the Clean Energy Fund paid for by surcharges on gas and electric customers’ monthly bills. “If we’re not going to use it, then stop collecting it and give it back,’’ he said.