From the Record:
Should New Jersey borrow $200 million to preserve open space at a time when the state is $33.7 billion in debt?
That’s the question facing voters on Election Day next week. Conservationists say that despite the Garden State’s financial crunch, the answer is yes.
“Open space, because of real estate prices, is not going to get cheaper,” said Eugene Reynolds of the non-profit Passaic River Coalition. “If we don’t act now, when we can preserve this land, efforts to preserve it down the road are going to be that much harder and more expensive.”
Ballot Question No. 3 would generate $109 million for open space and park development, $73 million to preserve farmland, $6 million for historic preservation and $12 million to acquire flood-prone properties along the Passaic, Raritan and Delaware rivers and their tributaries.
The $200 million — which would last a year — would come from state-issued bonds, which would be paid back within the next 30 years from existing revenue sources.
The most vocal opposition to Question No. 3 has come from Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, whose group, Americans for Prosperity, has launched an advertising campaign on several radio stations to oppose all four initiatives on the state ballot.
“The state already has a staggering debt load,” said Lonegan, adding that it would be financially irresponsible to increase that debt to buy open space. The conservative Republican’s group also opposes the use of eminent domain to acquire public land, and says that too much of the money is spent in administrative costs.
The Garden State Preservation Trust, created in 1998 with a $2 billion nest egg, is virtually broke. Governor Corzine and the Legislature, unable to agree on a permanent source of money to replenish the fund, agreed last summer to let voters choose whether they want to keep it afloat for another year in the meantime.