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New Jersey Open Space Bond Issue (2009)
In late June 2009, the bill passed by 26-7 in the Senate and 66-9 in the Assembly. Previously, in 2007, voters approved $200 million in bonds for the Garden State Preservation Trust - New Jersey Public Question Three. Those funds run out July 2009.
New Jersey voters have approved 12 consecutive bond issues in order to preserve open space, starting in 1961.
New Jersey Question 1 was approved by voters on the night of November 3, 2009.
Ballot measure details
The funds will be divided as follows:
- $218 million for Green Acres open space purchases
- $146 million for farmland preservation
- $24 million to buy flood-prone land
- $12 million for historic preservation
According to Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee chairman and supporter John McKeon:"By putting his imprimatur on the open space ballot question measure, our Governor has courageously demonstrated his long-standing commitment to the environment. This measure empowers New Jersey voters to make an investment in our future, and allowing this crucial program to languish is an expense New Jerseyans simply cannot afford."
Some of the bill's Assembly sponsors included: Budget chairman Louis Greenwald, Minority Whip Jon Bramnick, Minority Budget Officer Joseph Malone, III, Majority Conference leader Joan Quigley and Celeste Riley. The bill is sponsored by a total of 37 legislators.
The Senate Environment Committee chairman and Senator Bob Smith also strongly supported the bond measure. He stated, "Open space is so very valuable to the quality of life for all New Jerseyans. Open space preservation isn’t simply some high-minded State policy to conserve land – it’s responsible for creating parks, protecting vulnerable watershed, establishing wildlife preserves, maintaining our agricultural heritage and preserving historic landmarks."
The Sierra Club initially opposed the measure but later reversed their opinion. They said, the bond act is something better than nothing.
- The neglect of the program would have serious impacts on our environment, health and quality of life. "The New Jersey open-space program is the nation's most successful land preservation program, yet it has been left penniless while critical tracts of open space, farmland or historic sites are unprotected," said McKeon.
The NJ Keep It Green coalition, a diverse coalition of 132 organizations across New Jersey. Kelly Mooj, coordinator of the group argued:
- "These funds will be crucial to protecting what we love about New Jersey," said Kelly Mooj, Coordinator of the NJ Keep It Green coalition. "It’s absolutely essential that we renew funding to continue these efforts which do so much for New Jersey today, and leave a better state for our children and our grandchildren," she added.
- On August 18, 2009, she stated: “The public question will give voters a choice on preserving things that are near and dear to New Jersey: the quality of our drinking water, the health of our lakes and streams, our native wildlife, working farmland and other natural treasures that are worth preserving in our state. Continuing these efforts will make us better-off today and ensure a better New Jersey for our children and grandchildren.”
The New Jersey Farm Bureau has also stated their support for the passage of the measure:
- The bond issue would sustain the preservation program while other procedures are done to implement a sustainable funding source.
- The convenience of the issue would allow the procedures to develop without re-creating another funding program.
- According to the bureau president Richard Nieuwenhuis: "Farmland preservation is not only crucial to retaining agriculture in the country's most densely populated state, but also contributes to the quality of life for all residents."
The township of Upper Freeman has come out to support the issue as the Township Committee unanimously approved a resolution on October 15, 2009 to endorse the bond act. Liz Kwasnik, chairwoman of Upper Freeman's Open Space and Farmland Preservation Committee, stated that if the measure was not passed, the state's open space an farmland preservation efforts would dissipate. Remaining funds from a 2007 measure have been appropriated, according to Kwasnik. She stated: "The cost of the $400 million bond will be $10 a household per year to ensure that the vital preservation efforts can continue. At a time when land values are low, land conservation dollars will go further. It is a prudent investment for our future."
McKeon spoke at a voter awareness campaign about the issue on September 29, 2009. The campaign, sponsored by the Keep It Green Coalition and held in Trenton, saw the assemblyman urge citizens to vote yes on the issue on November 3, 2009. McKeon stated: "We are in a race against time to protect and preserve our natural resources including our pristine watersheds, valuable farmland, historic sites and flood-prone areas. The loss of land is permanent and irreversible and there are a finite number of undeveloped acres in our state, the most densely populated in the nation."
Steve Lonegan, who lost to Christopher J. Christie in the Republican primary for governor, was against the measure's passage. Lonegan argued that the state simply could afford to undertake the additional debt. "I'm not saying I oppose that, I'm just saying, be honest," Lonegan said. "It's become a slush fund for political projects," said Lonegan.
Initially the Sierra Club announced their opposition to the bond issue. They argued that the issue would not be effective and only had a 50% percent chance of passing. Head of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, Jeff Tittel, said, “The governor is pushing a $400 million bond act that we are concerned will fail, and is bad fiscal policy during an economic emergency.” However, later the group reversed their position and now supports the measure.
Although the bill passed both the Senate and the Assembly by a large margin, not everybody was in agreement:
- Assemblyman Richard Merkt and Senator Joseph Kyrillos said that now is not the appropriate time to pass the bill, referring to the state's current budget status.
- Kyrillos stated: "It is not right to put debt before the people for approval without telling them how far in the hole they already are. We send a very, very wrong signal, or a mixed signal at best by putting this on the ballot.
In a statement that was made public on October 9, 2009, Steve Lonegan, Mayor of Bogota, New Jersey, stated his opposition to Question 1:
- The measure would raise taxes at a time when the state’s debt is at $44.6 billion.
- Prior to this, the debt was at $7.1 billion. According to the statement, it took the state 219 years to get to that level of debt.
- Mayor Lonegan disputes the claims that $400 million will preserve $70,000 acres. He states: “That's simply ridiculous and the truth is even worse because much of this funding actually goes to projects like parking lots, Astroturf sports fields and construction of buildings like bathrooms, storage buildings and press boxes in inner cities. Millions more goes to paying salaries and operating expenses for the Department of Environmental Protection and other state agencies.”
$952,915 was reported to have been contributed to campaigns relating to Question 1, $748,799 in support and $204,117 in opposition.
According to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, the Keep It Green Coalition were the only donors who filed campaign finance reports, to the New Jersey Open Space Bond Issue. The dates of finance reports filed and amount donated were as follows:
|April 15||Keep It Green||$127,578.83|
|July 15||Keep It Green||$39,047.29|
|October 5||Keep It Green||$208,108.64|
|October 23||Keep It Green||$51,500|
|October 23||Keep It Green||$154,003|
|October 23||Keep It Green||$182,331.75|
|October 28||Keep It Green||$192,910.35|
According to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, the Committee to Defeat Question 1 had been the only donors, who have filed campaign finance reports, to the New Jersey Open Space Bond Issue. The dates of finance reports filed and amount donated are as follows:
|October 14||Committee to Defeat Question 1||$102,041.02|
|October 22||Committee to Defeat Question 1||$47,325|
Research on the Value of Open Space
In 2007, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection published a report titled Valuing New Jersey's Natural Capital. The report assigned dollar values to many varieties of open space, such as areas that preserve clean water, filter solid waste, and produce fish and farm products. Some additional reports on the economic value of open space can be found on the Resources Page of the NJ Keep It Green website.
- See also: Polls, 2009 ballot measures
- A October 20, 2009 Monmouth/Gannett New Jersey poll revealed that 55% of voters planned to vote in favor of the open space measure, while 32% planned to vote against the measure. However, 13% of the voters are undecided on how they will vote.
- An October 15-20, 2009 Rutgers-Eagleton poll revealed that 41% of voters planned to vote "yes," whereas 43% planned to vote "no" and 16% were undecided about the Open Space Bond measure. A total of 583 voters were polled. The reported poll has a margin of error of +/- 4.1%.
- A PublicMind poll, by the Fairleigh Dickinson University, revealed that 56% of voters planned to vote in favor of the Open Space measure, while 31% planned on voting "no" and 13% said they were undecided.
|Date of Poll||Pollster||In favor||Opposed||Undecided|
|Sept. 28 - Oct. 4||Farleigh Dickinson PublicMind poll||56%||31%||13%|
|October 15 - 20||Rutgers-Eagleton poll||41%||43%||16%|
|October 20||Monmouth/Gannett New Jersey poll||55%||32%||13%|
- Daily Record,"$4M expected from feds for Highlands preservation," November 1, 2009
- Gannett, "Will N.J. voters approve borrowing millions more for open space?," November 1, 2009
- Madison Eagle, "Madison council backs $400 million open space bond on fall ballot," October 7, 2009
- Associated Press, "Group campaigns for NJ open space ballot question," September 29, 2009 (dead link)
- The Philadelphia Inquirer, "N.J. voters to decide whether to fund open space," June 26, 2009
- Politicker NJ, "McKeon:Overwhelming bi-partisan support in assembly speaks to importance of 'open space' to N.J. voter," June 25, 2009
- The Philadelphia Inquirer, "N.J. voters to decide on open-space bond issue," October 31, 2009
- Asbury Park Press, "Voters to decide $400 million open space proposal," June 25, 2009
- Politickernj.com, "McKEON: SIGNING OF BALLOT MEASURE EMPOWERS VOTERS TO FUND OPEN SPACE IN NOVEMBER," August 18, 2009
- NJ Legislature Home Page
- PolitickerNJ, "Smith-Sweeney Bill To Authorize Open Space Bonding Approved By Budget Panel," June 22, 2009
- Bloomberg.com, "Corzine Can’t Count on Open-Space Bonds for Environmentalists," October 15, 2009
- The Star-Ledger,"$400 million bill to preserve land clears Assembly," June 26, 2009
- NJ Keep It Green, "Voter Approval Needed to Continue Protecting Clean Water, Fish and Wildlife Habitat, Working Farms, Forests," August 6, 2009
- Keep It Green, "NJ Keep It Green Coalition Applauds Signing of Legislation to Place Continued Funding for Preservation on November 3 Statewide Ballot. Vote "Yes!" on Public Question #1!," August 18, 2009
- NJ.com, "New Jersey Farm Bureau strongly endorses open space ballot question," June 3, 2009
- Examiner, "U.F. officials support ballot question No. 1"
- PolitickerNJ.com, "McKEON CALLS ON CITIZENS TO VOTE YES FOR OPEN SPACE FOR FOURTEENTH CONSECUTIVE TIME AT 'KEEP IT GREEN' CAMPAIGN KICK-OFF," September 29, 2009
- Stop NJ Debt, "Stop Higher Taxes and Stop the Debt by voting NO on Question One on this November’s," October 9, 2009
- Follow the Money, Question 1"
- Public Information, "Detail Filing Report
- "Monmouth University" 2009 Election Poll, October 20, 2009
- Rutgers-Eagleton Institute of Politics, "Support for the New Jersey Open Space Bond Depends on How Question is Asked," accessed October 25, 2009
- Farleigh Dickinson University, "PublicMind poll: Open Space Catches On, But Not Vote-by-Mail," October 7, 2009