New Jersey voters typically are generous when asked to spend public money on statewide projects that benefit the masses, whether it’s to preserve open space, build higher-education facilities, or repair dams.
This year proved no exception, with voters easily approving a public question to spend $125 million to modernize and expand public libraries throughout the state. The vote gave state officials the power to issue general-obligation bonds and then use the money generated to give matching grants to libraries for construction, technology upgrades, and other projects. State money is to pay for roughly half the cost of local projects, with libraries paying the rest with public or private funds.
The question, one of two on the ballot, was popular with lawmakers who put it up for the vote and with numerous interest groups, including the New Jersey State League of Municipalities and New Jersey Business and Industry Association. Library officials said the money is sorely needed, as it has been 18 years since the state’s last library borrowing, and since then, there has been a major shift to the Internet and other new technologies. Facilities have been unable to keep up with the public demand for services.
Six in 10 voters agreed on Election Day. While support was widespread throughout New Jersey, it was not universal. Three counties turned down the question. Some voters said after the election that they were concerned about state spending and debt — prior to issuing the library bonds, New Jersey’s total bonded indebtedness totaled $43 billion, among the highest of all the states. That total debt load works out to about $4,800 per person.
By contrast, a majority of voters in all 21 counties supported the second ballot question, which constitutionally forces the state to use all money received from legal settlements involving polluters to preserve or restore contaminated sites or land nearby. This means governors will no longer be able to divert hundreds of millions of dollars gained from those who have sullied state land just to plug budget gaps. Nearly 70 percent of all voters approved that question, which may affect state budgeting but does not obligate New Jersey to spend any additional funds. Its lowest level of support came from Salem County, where 61 percent of voters endorsed it.
Salem County voters were also least likely to approve the library bond act and overall opposed it, along with two other counties.
Here are the counties with the lowest approval rates on the library-bond issue, as well as which gubernatorial candidate the county backed:
1. Salem County
Just 45.4 percent of voters endorsed the question. About 1,600 more voters opposed the bond issue than supported it. A majority of voters also backed Republican Kim Guadagno for governor.
2. Warren County
Some 1,200 more voters opposed the library bond issue, giving it just a 47.7 percent approval rate. At the same time, Warren voted for Guadagno, giving her the greatest level of support of any county — 61.1 percent.
3. Hunterdon County
The third county that rejected the question, 48.1 percent of voters supported it. The county also backed Guadagno.
4. Ocean County
This Shore county backed the library-bond issue by the slimmest of margins — 10 votes. It also backed Guadagno.
5. Sussex County
Considered a conservative bastion, Sussex supported the question by a 53.8 percent majority. At the same time, Guadagno won her third-widest margin in Sussex, 59.7 percent.
6. Monmouth County
Guadagno’s home county backed her and also supported the library bond issue with 54 percent of the vote.
7. Gloucester County
This southern county on the Delaware River backed the question with 55.9 percent of the vote. It also supported Democrat Phil Murphy.
8. Atlantic County
Voters backed the library-bond issue with 56.3 percent of the vote. Murphy also won here.
9. Middlesex County
Some 57 percent of voters in this Democratic-dominated county approved the bond issue, as well as Murphy
10. Cumberland County
Voters in this county endorsed the question with a 57.7 percent majority. Murphy also won here.
On the other hand, Hudson County gave the greatest support to the library question. The state’s most Democratic county, Hudson endorsed the question with a 77.6 percent majority, as well as giving Murphy his biggest victory margin — 80.5 percent.