“Green Acres”! A Debt We Can’t Afford.

No More Debt!!!!!!

On November 3rd, we are going to be asked to borrow another $400 million to fund the state’s Green Acres program. Regardless as to its history, this ballot initiative needs to go down to defeat.

The program was created in 1961 – during a building boom that saw 20 percent growth in New Jersey – to preserve forests, meadows, and farms. In the 48 years since, voters have gone to the polls a dozen times to approve borrowing more than $2 billion for this purpose. Today we don’t have a building boom. Growth is down to what it was during the Great Depression.

The folks who came up with the original idea saw the importance of preserving as much of our natural world as possible, to provide an aesthetically beautiful and environmentally healthy state for our children and for future generations. But since its inception, something has gone seriously wrong with how the money is spent.

A large chunk of the money is being diverted to pay for municipal recreation projects that are anything but “green”. In Hudson County, one of the last pieces of green open space is being turned into a parking lot – with “Green” Acres money. In Burlington County, they are paving over far fields with artificial turf. It’s no wonder that our state’s top environmental groups have expressed concerns about the program.

In 2007, voters were asked to borrow $200 million for open space. Trenton sold the plan based on images of sun filtering through tree tops. So how did millions of this money end up being spent on asphalt for parking lots and artificial turf?

In March, a report detailing how the money was being spent was issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection. Click here Read it and you will find that more than a third of the money spent was earmarked for local recreation projects. And it’s written so that this money is heavily aimed towards urban areas. Suburban and rural communities are capped at the amount of money they can even ask for – with cities getting three dollars for every dollar available for rural and suburban communities.

Cities like Newark, Camden, and Hoboken gobbled up millions in borrowed money to fund construction projects for non-essentials like handball courts, snack bars, skateboard parks, barbecue grills, and water fountains. In contrast, counties like Sussex and Hunterdon – two of the most rural and greenest counties in New Jersey – didn’t get any of this money.

This being New Jersey, it wasn’t long before party bosses like Joe Ferriero and Dennis Oury figured out a way to make money out of the Green Acres program. Oury recently pleaded guilty in federal court to setting-up a shadow business with Ferriero that directed Green Acres grants to a municipality in return for a six-figure “fee” paid for by tax dollars. Ferriero was convicted in federal court. What started out as a honest program designed to do good, has ended up a means for politicians to dole out money to their favorite contractors and consultants.

There’s a cost to borrowing another $400 million.

New Jersey is flat busted: $45 billion in debt and faces an $8 billion budget shortfall for next year.

There are some political leaders who actually recognize this: Mike Doherty, Steve Oroho, Jerry Cardinale, Kevin O’Toole, Phil Haines, Jennifer Beck, Joe Pennacchio, Alison McHose, Gary Chiusano, Rick Merkt, Michael Patrick Carroll, Vince Polistino, John Amodeo, Dave Russo, and John DiMaio. Others, like Tom Kean Jr. and John McKeon, haven’t figured it out.

Last week, the State Treasurer reported that New Jersey had fallen behind revenue projections another $190 million in just three months. He advised the Legislature that the Governor is looking for ways to make cuts to find the money.

What happens if we don’t have the money pay back this new debt? Will state cuts mean higher property taxes? They most likely will.

So how can we – in a midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression – justify going further into debt, just so we can throw money at nonessential recreation projects?

The politicians, consultants, and contractors will tell you that it’s necessary to keep New Jersey “green”. But there’s nothing “green” about artificial turf except the color and asphalt is black, the color of dead foilage.

Green Acres programs are terrific in their original intent. However, the reality is that we are giving the government and they are misusing it. This is one time we can control the money the government gets. This time, Ballot Question One – the Green Acres bond, should be defeated. The program is spending money on the wrong things at the wrong time with virtually no accountability and different standards for different parts of the state. Bottom line, we just can’t afford to borrow more. Vote no on Question 1.

“Green Acres”!  A Debt We Can’t Afford.