As SCR160 votes trickle in, earlier GOP yes votes become no votes

TRENTON – The previous attempt at passing a resolution to use sales tax revenue to help open space preservation, SCR138, passed in the Senate 36-2 in June but was more volatile in terms of the funds it would have generated.

SCR138, which had bipartisan support, would have dedicated one-fifth of a cent for each dollar subject to sales taxes in order to generate money for protecting flood-prone areas, historical preservation, and open space.

However, several Republicans who voted yes on that measure voted no Monday on the latest incarnation, SCR160, which caps the funding at $200 million a year.

Sens. Tom Kean Jr., James Holzapfel, Robert Singer, Christopher Connors, Michael Doherty, and Joseph Pennacchio voted no Monday after voting yes on the earlier resolution.  As of about 11:30 a.m., the vote on SCR160 was 14-7. Bill supporters need 24 votes in support in order to try and have this question placed on the November ballot.

If it passes the Senate then the Assembly would have to come back into session this week as well and vote on it.

Environmental backers expressed disappointment at the GOP votes Monday.

“We are extremely disappointed that so far many of New Jersey’s Republican senators – with the exception of Senator Bateman – are voting against allowing voters to decide whether the state should dedicate funding to protect open space, water supplies and flood-prone areas, farmland and historic sites throughout the state,” said NJ Keep It Green Chairman Tom Gilbert in a release today.
“These same senators just a month ago voted in favor of dedicated funding for Green Acres, Blue Acres, Farmland and Historic Preservation programs, and now they are flip-flopping. New Jersey voters deserve to know why they have had such a sudden change of heart.”

Democratic Sen. Bob Smith, a co-sponsor of SCR160, said that over the weekend, the governor’s office told Republican senators not to support this measure.

A response from the governor’s office could not be obtained Monday morning. 

Bateman voted for the measure, and if he is the lone GOP yes vote today, then the Democrats need 23 votes.   However, three Democratic senators are out of state.

But there has not been consensus among environmental groups that this resolution is the best option. NJ Environmental Federation and the Sierra Club both opposed it, questioning its effectiveness in light of efforts by the state to further sprawl.

But supporters such as Smith and Bateman have pointed out there is no other public funding for preservation.  The earlier funds have been dedicated and are gone. 

The issue of finding money for post-Sandy flood prevention is just one reason SCR160 is important, they said.

However, N.J. Policy Perspective also spoke out against it during committee hearings, pointing out that if this had been in effect for fiscal year 2014, the “razor-thin” surplus of $300 million would have been reduced to $100 million.  NJPP said open space efforts need to be increased, but argued that a constitutional dedication of money is not the best option.

Jeff Tittel, head of the N.J. Sierra Club, said in a release Monday that if the Legislature fails to pass SCR160, it presents an opportunity.

“This legislation would have been spending money we don’t have, which is irresponsible,” Tittel said. “Instead of rushing to push through something we now have the time to get a real sustainable source of funding where we pay for open space without cutting other vital environmental programs.” As SCR160 votes trickle in, earlier GOP yes votes become no votes