The state is looking at doubling the amount of money it sets aside for shore protection projects each year.
In a rare joint legislative meeting, the environment committees for the Senate and Assembly are scheduled to vote today on a bill (S-311) that would increase the amount of funding for beach restoration from $25 million to $50 million.
The money is used to provide state matching-shares for local and county projects to protect property and infrastructure from coastal storm damage and restore beaches eroded by storms, a more frequent occurrence in recent years.
The projects enjoy strong support along the coast, since helping to keep beaches attractive enough to lure tourists each summer. The same can’t be said for the taxes that raise the money for the state’s share. New Jersey’s tourism industry generates more than $40 billion a year.
The money is raised by the state realty-transfer fee, a tax paid by the seller of a home. Under current law, the first $25 million raised by the fee is dedicated to shore protection; the remainder is set aside for affordable housing.
There is no shortage of projects seeking funding to shore up Jersey beaches. Over the past 30 years, there has been an estimated $1 billion spent on beach replenishment projects, with most of the funding coming from the federal government.
The bill to increase funding for shore protection projects has bipartisan support with Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May) and Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (D-Monmouth), both legislators representing coastal communities.
Whether Gov. Chris Christie would back the measure, however, is uncertain. Two years ago, the governor suggested the realty transfer tax be repealed at a town hall meeting he held in Franklin Township. When questioned about it, Christie said the fee “makes no sense.’’
Some environmentalists have a problem with the bill, too. “Again, we’re not creating a new source of income,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, noting it would divert money from affordable housing. “We are just rearranging the deck chairs on a fiscal Titantic.’’
The bill will taken up by the Senate Environment and Energy and Assembly Environment committees during a joint meeting today in Toms River. The committees also will discuss a bill to guarantee public access to beaches and the shoreline, a measure under discussion for months. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. at Toms River Town Hall.