Open Trails NJ position on the Open Space funding bill

Many of our followers have asked questions about or commented on the Open Space funding issue in our state. A few years back, the public was asked to vote for a ballot question that would dedicate a portion of existing tax revenue to create a funding stream in the state budget, dedicated to the purchase of open space throughout the state. However, we learned later that some of these dedicated monies would come from existing DEP funds that were used for staffing, maintenance etc. Sadly, that horse left the barn when the ballot question passed.

In a 2014 Facebook appeal to the proponents of the open space measure, Director of Parks Mark Texel commented on the devastating impact this would have on the DEP’s operations.

In the last voting session, the proponents of the open space measure, many of who were environmental groups, lobbied hard for an accompanying enactment bill that allocated the spending of the monies dedicated in the constitutional amendment. The bill did not pass as a result of some controversy over the allocation of these funds, questions related to the impact on the DEP’s budget related to maintenance and staff, as well as much concern over the definition of stewardship projects and what money could flow from the public treasury to non-profit groups to supplant the work of the DEP.

You can read more about some of those concerns here at Bill Wolfe’s page.

As you know, one of the concerns of Open Trails NJ has been maintaining responsible access to our states lands and one of the impediments to maintaining access to trails has been the issue of maintenance. We appreciate the fact that DEP has been stretched to its limits, given recent budget cuts and ever growing demands. Our organization along with other groups continue to work with the DEP to offer volunteer support where needed and are not seeking funding or reimbursement from the state for these efforts.

But, we want to make sure that the DEP is not further hampered by budget constraints as a result of this ill-conceived plan.  And, we want to make sure that whatever scarce dollars are allocated for stewardship projects are truly beneficial projects.

To that end, we wanted to alert you to the fact that this bill passed the Assembly last week and has passed the full Senate. It is currently on Governor Christie’s desk awaiting signature into law.

It is our hope that Governor Christie will veto this bill on the grounds that the budget process is not complete and consistent with his past practice of not considering items that have a budget impact outside of the budget process.

Further, the governor should send the bill back to the legislature to ensure that the concept of stewardship is properly and narrowly defined so we don’t squander scarce state dollars on unnecessary projects.

For those that care about this issue, you can call the governor at 609-292-6000 or go to this page to send an email.  (select “Environment” as the Topic and “Open Space” as the subtopic)