Given the limited resources, it will be difficult to please everyone.
The Legal Background
Last year, New Jersey voters approved a constitutional amendment that dedicates four percent of Corporation Business Tax revenue each year for a number of environmental programs, including open space, farmland, historic preservation, water programs, public and private site remediation, and underground storage tank programs. The allocation for the preservation of open space, farmland, and historic sites will increase to six percent in fiscal year 2020.
The new program, which will remain in place for the next 30 years, ended the previous tax scheme under which four percent of corporate tax revenue was set aside for environmental programs. It also increased the allocation of funds for the preservation of open space, farmland, historic sites and flood prone areas to 71 percent of the dedicated funds starting in FY 2016 and 78 percent starting in FY 2020. Open space preservation programs previously relied on a series of bond acts to fund the Garden State Preservation Trust Fund, which has since been depleted.
The Current Legislation
While the constitutional amendment ensures continued funding, all of the programs will experience deep funding cuts under the new scheme put in place by the constitutional amendment. As recently detailed by NJ Spotlight, open space preservation funds will decrease from more than $200 million to $71 million annually for the next 4 years and then increased to $121 million for successive years. Accordingly, interested parties, from the State Board of Agriculture to non-profit organizations dedicated to urban renewal, all have a vested stake in how the funds are allocated. The programs anticipated to experience the most significant cuts include water programs, site remediation, and land use regulation programs.
To implement the constitutional amendment and divvy up the funds, state lawmakers recently introduced the "New Jersey Farmland, Open Space, and Historic Preservation Act” (Assembly Bill 4197). Pursuant to the proposed measure:
- Forty-seven percent would be used for acquiring and developing lands for public recreation and conservation purposes, including lands that protect water supplies and lands that protect water supplies and lands that have incurred flood or storm damage or are likely to do so, or that may buffer or protect other properties from flood or storm damage (i.e., Blue Acres), under the Green Acres program;
- Fifty percent would be used for farmland preservation purposes; and
- Three percent would be used for historic preservation purposes.
With respect to the Green Acres program funding, 41 percent would be further allocated to State open space acquisition and development projects; 50 percent would be designated for grants and loans to fund local government open space acquisition and development projects; and 9 percent would be used for grants to fund open space acquisition and development projects undertaken by qualifying tax exempt nonprofit organizations.