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.

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