The Reason Foundation, in a new policy brief, wonders why With Pension Costs Soaring, Should New Jersey Commit Billions to More Open Space Preservation?
The New Jersey Legislature is currently considering a bill—Senate Concurrent Resolution 84 (SCR84)—that would amend the state Constitution to dedicate six percent of the state’s Corporation Business Tax revenues from FY2016 to FY2045 for the purpose of open space, farmland and historic preservation, and it would send this amendment on the ballot for voter approval in the next general election (presumably November 2014).
The new funding stream would be used to cover loans or grants for: (1) preserving land for recreation and conservation purposes under the state’s Green Acres program (as well as to expand the “Blue Acres” program to purchase lands in flood-prone areas, or lands that buffer such properties, and demolish all structures and improvements thereon); (2) preserving farmland; (3) preserving historic properties; and (4) covering the administrative costs associated with these efforts.
Yet the state government already owns nearly 15 percent of New Jersey’s total land area outright and, altogether, it has set aside nearly one-third of its total land area as protected open space, according to state figures. That is on par with the amount of total state land area already developed.
It is unclear why additional land preservation is needed when a significant portion of the state is already off-limits to development. Nor is it clear why there is a rush to lock in three decades of massive funding for land preservation when far higher spending priorities—primarily, rapidly rising government retiree pension and debt service costs—loom.
Look at how county Open Space taxes are being spent now and the answer becomes obvious.
New Jersey will steal the money raised for whatever purpose (even funding padded pensions) as convenient. They would put a constitutional amendment to Preserve Cuddly Bunnies on the ballot as long as it meant more money to spend and they were allowed to interpret that “covering the administrative costs associated with these efforts” line as broadly as some counties have.
Based on the latest budget data sheets (with an estimate for Bergen) put into a spreadsheet of expenditures at most 42% of Open Space spending ($76.7 million out of a total $182.1 million in 2013) is being used to acquire open space. Among the other uses:
- $10 million was being used to pay salaries ($6.7 of which for only three counties – Burlington, Essex, and Union).
- $31 million for Other Expenses
- $57 million for Debt Payments (which for Union County are made up numbers).