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With no money for open space, New Jersey lawmakers advance long-term funding proposal

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TRENTON, New Jersey — A proposal that would ensure long-term funding for land preservation by redirecting a portion of existing tax collections advanced Monday after its first public hearing.

The latest plan to replenish the state's depleted open space preservation fund is to dedicate 6 percent of corporation business taxes to finance land and historic preservation for the next 30 years. Voter approval is required because the proposal changes the state constitution.

Sen. Bob Smith, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Environment Committee, put forth the proposal after other long-term funding ideas failed to gain traction. The most recent would have redirected a portion of sales tax revenues, but it was opposed by some lawmakers and environmentalists alike because of the potential to shortchange other worthwhile programs. Republican Sen. Kip Bateman is the co-sponsor of the new resolution.

The proposal would increase the percentage of corporation business taxes dedicated to funding environmental programs and would reallocate the existing 4 percent. Amendments may be inserted to satisfy concerns that park upkeep, water quality monitoring and pollution restoration aren't given short shrift by funding reallocations.

The proposal would generate about $150 million a year through 2045.

Its next stop is the Senate Budget Committee. A similar resolution is pending introduction in the Assembly.

The sponsors hope to put it before voters in November. To do so, both houses of the Legislature must pass it by a three-fifths majority. The governor's signature is not required.

The open space preservation fund is out of money. Voters have consistently approved short-term borrowing while advocates have sought a long-term funding source.

The most recent voter-approved borrowing occurred in 2009.

A proposal to dedicate a portion of the sales tax failed in the Legislature last year. A water-tax proposal did not gain traction, and there appears to be no consensus for more borrowing.

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