$200M bond issue bill for preservation clears Budget panel

TRENTON – The Assembly Budget Committee released an open space preservation bill Thursday that drew opposition from several environmental groups.

A4541 authorizes the issuance of $200 million in bonds to fund open space preservation.

This is one of several competing bills or proposed constitutional amendments in committees seeking to find a new funding source for preservation.

“This is not a perfect solution,’’ Chair Vincent Prieto said, but it is part of the continuing effort to find a permanent funding source.

The Senate Environment Committee today was scheduled to take up a proposed constitutional amendment that would dedicate either $200 million or 2.4 percent of a year’s sales tax, whichever is lower, toward preservation.

Environmental groups have not been of one mind on which avenue to support.

For instance, the N.J. Audubon Society opposed the bill in the Budget Committee today.  The Society’s Kelly Mooij said, among other things, this bill would not allocate needed stewardship money, and it would be merely a stop-gap, leaving the state in the same place one year from now.

The N.J. Sierra Club, however, backs bond issues over sales taxes as the more responsible direction.

Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman confessed she was torn between finding an ideal long-term solution and being realistic as to what could be achieved now in light of the state’s budget concerns.

And sponsor Assemblywoman Grace Spencer said that this bill does not solve the problem long term, but “to do nothing means to stop progress. To do nothing is derelict.”

It passed 11-1 largely along party lines with Republican Jay Webber the sole no vote. His GOP colleagues all raised concerns, however, about increasing the debt load in the state.

The panel also released these bills:

A1740: This bill regulates the sale and implementation of service contracts for the repair, replacement, maintenance, or service of property used for personal purposes. Some satellite TV and broadband services have been excluded due to amendments. It passed unanimously.

A4536: This makes changes to eligibility requirements for the Jersey City Employees Retirement System.

Chair Vincent Prieto said this bill puts the second largest city on par with the rest of the state. It passed unanimously.

$200M bond issue bill for preservation clears Budget panel