Open space resolution voting under way

TRENTON – The Senate session on the proposed open space constitutional amendment got under way Monday, but sponsors are pessimistic they will muster the 24 votes needed to pass SCR160.

Already, some Republicans who voted in favor last time were in opposition today.

The board opened shortly after 9 and Senate President Steve Sweeney said it will remain open until 5 p.m., but two factors are combining to make it difficult to obtain the 24 votes needed to push this resolution farther down the road toward an appearance on the November ballot.

First, the governor’s office communicated to GOP lawmakers over the weekend his opposition to this proposal to use sales tax revenue to fund preservation efforts, according to Democratic Sen. Bob Smith, a  co-sponsor.

Second, there are several Democrats out of state, and it remained uncertain if any would return to vote.

The only Republican vote that could be counted on by the supporters is Sen. Christopher Bateman, a co-sponsor.  But if he becomes the only GOP vote in favor, the Democrats still need 23 votes, assuming no one defects.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, Smith and Bateman all said this morning that this resolution is more fiscally conservative than the previous incarnation, and that version passed with 36 votes.

Bateman said that it is unfortunate that more of his GOP colleagues don’t realize how important this is, especially because of the Blue Acres program aspect that will enable the state to acquire flood-prone properties.

The town of Manville, Bateman said by way of an example, has been flooded three times in five years, and could benefit from this attempt of finding stable funding.

Under this resolution, approximately $200 million would be dedicated annually from fiscal years 2015 to 2044 to support various preservation efforts, including protecting properties habitually at risk of flooding.

But over the weekend, the governor’s office informed Republicans to vote no, according to Smith.

He called it a tragedy if the measure does not pass.  “This is necessary to reshape and remold the state of New Jersey if we are going to survive the superstorms in the future,’’ he said.

But he said front-office intimidation became a hurdle.

But also complicating matters for the Democrats is the fact several lawmakers are out of state.

For example, Sen. Linda Greenstein is in Maine and there was no indication she was returning today, several senators said.

Sens. James Beach and Fred Madden were reportedly out of state as well.

The early vote was 12-7, with Republicans Tom Kean Jr., Michael Doherty, Joseph Pennacchio, James Holzapfel, Sam Thompson, Robert Singer and Christopher Connors voting no. 

Open space resolution voting under way