Sunday, October 29, 2006

Ballot Question No. 2

As a member of Plainfield’s Ten Cities Tree Committee, I attended the 81st annual meeting of the New Jersey Shade Tree Federation in Cherry Hill Friday. Among the many things I learned was that every voter has a chance this year to decide on helping the future of the state's outdoor treasures.

Specifically, Public Question No. 2 asks voters to decide on a constitutional amendment that would provide “a dedicated source of funding for maintenance and capital improvements at the state’s parks, historic sites and wildlife areas,” according to information from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

A lack of reliable funding has caused a backlog of deferred maintenance and improvements with a tab of up to $250 million. The proposed source of funding is a shift in revenues from the existing Corporate Business Tax Fund to allow more money for development of lands for recreation and conservation.

Everyone in this densely populated state probably has a special getaway destination within the state system. The handout on the ballot question cites sunsets at Island Beach State Park, fall foliage spectacles at High Point, fireworks at Liberty State Park and birding at Cape May Point as examples. To put this kind of enjoyment in perspective, NJDEP Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson included these numbers in an article for the New Jersey Conference of Mayors:

“With the recent proposal to create three new urban state parks in Trenton, Paterson and River Edge, New Jersey’s state park system has grown to 42 parks, 11 forests, three recreation areas, 43 natural areas and more than 50 historic sites and districts. It also includes several marinas and a golf course. These lands, which contain some of the most significant natural landscapes and historic sites in the state, account for more than 397,000 acres.
In the last 15 years, annual visitation to the state’s parks, forests and historic sites has increased by nearly 50 percent. Over the past five years, an average of 15 million visitors per year used the state park system's sites and facilities. In 2005, that number climbed to more than 18 million people. Just this Fourth of July, more than 70,000 people visited Liberty State Park to celebrate our nation’s independence.”

The question and an interpretive statement appear at the top of the sample ballot that each registered voter should have just received. Uses for the 4 percent of revenue currently allocated for environmental purposes would be expanded to include upkeep of the state sites and facilities. No new taxes would result from a “yes” vote on the public question.

If it passes, at least 15 percent of the dedicated funds would be authorized for the proposed use, with an additional 17 percent in 2016. Currently, the 4 percent of CBT funds for environmental purposes is split among hazardous discharge cleanup, air pollution control, water quality and underground storage tank programs.

If it does not pass, the funding for the repairs and improvements at state parks, historic sites and wildlife areas would have to come directly from the state budget.

The state’s beaches, highlands and rich roster of historic places provide families and individuals with unique recreational choices. Both current and former residents can easily evoke a sense of life in New Jersey by thinking of favorite state sites. The ballot question deserves attention on Nov. 7. Polling places will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

--Bernice Paglia


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