Open space sales-tax measure moving forward

TRENTON – One of two proposals to find permanent public funding for open space preservation continued to advance Thursday.

SCR165, which divides environmentalists, would take $200 million – or 2.4 percent – of the sales tax annually, whichever is lower, and use it to help fund farmland and historic site preservation as well as open space.

The Senate Environment Committee took up the proposal again today, and heard testimony from advocates pro and con.

The measure is framed as a proposed constitutional amendment that would endure for 30 years.

Another measure under consideration would authorize issuance of bonds to generate $200 million a year toward preservation.

Sales tax opponents cite future unknown economic fluctuations, plus Gov. Chris Christie issued a warning last week that if this measure becomes law, he will be the one who decides which other programs lose money in order to fund constitutionally mandated preservation work.

Opponents of A4541, the bond act that is up for a vote in today’s Assembly session, point out that the bill is a temporary fix and a permanent solution still would have to be found.

The constitutional amendment that has been advanced in the Senate panel has the sponsorship of four of the committee’s five members: Democrats Bob Smith, Linda Greenstein and Jim Whelan and Republican Chris Bateman.

The bond act bill is sponsored by Democratic Assembly members Grace Spencer, Sheila Oliver and Lou Greenwald.

Smith said today they had been unable to reach a compromise with backers of the Assembly measure.

Open space sales-tax measure moving forward