Advocates say budget sacrifices state parks

Senate Budget Committee Chair Paul Sarlo says the language in the budget was no secret and that any lawmaker who wanted to raise objections could have.

“This budget bill was out in the public domain for over a day, unlike some of the $40 billion budgets we’ve done in the past, so it was transparent. Shame on those folks who didn’t read the language; that’s their issue, not my issue,” he said.

Regardless of who read or didn’t read the language, it is music to the ears of Paul Fireman, one of the owners of Liberty National Golf Course, who has proposed — so far unsuccessfully — moving three holes of the golf course to Caven Point, 22 acres of beach that represents one of the last vestiges of the city’s original shoreline and is a sanctuary for nesting and migratory birds. In exchange, he says he’d give up some unused land a little further away for kids to learn the game of golf.

Assemblyman Raj Mukerji says he never saw the language, but resents the fact that the door has been opened for a billionaire to grab land for an exclusive use.

“I have constituents who haven’t got unemployment claims, that haven’t been paid since March, can’t pay their rent, can’t pay their groceries, and their public parkland is being taken from them, without community participation, and quite frankly without lawmaker input or knowledge,” Mukerji said.

Sarlo, who along with a majority of state lawmakers ,including Mukherji, has accepted campaign contributions from Fireman over the past decade. He says he’s looking out for a state park system that needs over $300 million in repairs and upgrades.

But New York/New Jersey Baykeeper Greg Remaud, who is also a member of Friends of Liberty State Park, says the fix is in. Fireman’s money and influence, he says, helped kill the Liberty State Park Protection Act that would have specifically protected the park from commercial development. The bill cleared committees but died after it was pulled from the agenda by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, another recipient of Fireman’s campaign dollars.

“He’s certainly been able to change the trajectory, actually warp the political process, regarding the Liberty State Park Protection Act,” Remaud said.

Fireman’s strategy this time around is to allege that the Friends of Liberty State Park is an elitist group which has never advocated for the recreation needs of the surrounding community, made up mostly of people of color. It’s one that stings, given the current cultural upheaval across the country, but unfair say others in the community, like Chris Gadsden, a former councilman and current principal of nearby Lincoln High School.

“I hope they don’t start buying off voices. That’s kind of what it looks like right now because Paul Fireman has never engaged folks in this conversation,” he said.

NJTV News didn’t hear back from anyone at Liberty National by time of publication, or any of the members of the Legislature who represents the district, including Sen. Sandra Cunningham, a co-sponsor of the budget bill and another recipient of Fireman campaign money.