Breakdown: What do this year’s ballot questions mean?

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

When voters get to the polls next week, they’ll be faced with two questions.

The first will ask, “Do you approve the ‘New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act’? This bond act authorizes the state to issue bonds in the aggregate principal amount of $125 million. The proceeds of the bonds will be used to provide grants to public libraries. The grants will be used to build, equip, and expand public libraries to increase capacity and serve the public.”

What it’s essentially saying is the state would borrow $125 million. Then, the state librarian, in consultation with the president of Thomas Edison State University, would hand the money out to different municipalities and counties. The bill says local governments who receive the grant would get 50 percent of the project paid for by the bond and they would have to pay the other half through local or private sources. The money would be used for things like building improvements, increasing capacity and updating technology.

People in favor say libraries are not just for books, they’re important because they’re often used as places to study and hold meetings. They also argue libraries now help to bridge the digital divide, giving people without access to computers the ability to use the internet for things like college preparations and job searching. Plus, those in favor say libraries haven’t received any additional funding for 15 years and they are in desperate need.

But people against this proposal say that $125 million is just a loan and will be added to New Jersey’s debt, which the bill says was over $153, 518, 843,000 last year.

Opponents also argue our libraries are among the few institutions that already receive funding under state law, with 33 cents out of every thousand dollars in local taxes going to fund them.

The second ballot question focuses on the environment.

It reads, “Do you approve amending the Constitution to dedicate all moneys collected by the state relating to natural resource damages in cases of contamination of the environment? The moneys would have be used to repair, restore, replace, or preserve the state’s natural resources. The moneys may also be used to pay legal or other costs incurred by the State in pursuing its claims.”

When there’s an environmental lawsuit, money from settlement goes to the state. Take the recent Exxon case which settled for $225 million for alleged contamination at its old industrial site. Language in the 2018 fiscal year budget allows the current administration to divert $175 million to the general fund to be used however they see fit. Only $50 million has to be put toward environmental concerns.

Environmentalists want the money from environmental settlements to be put in a lock box, only to be used to repair, restore, replace or preserve the state’s natural resources.

But then you have people against it, who want voters to say “no” because they believe the Constitution shouldn’t be amended. They also argue the state should never tie itself down in terms of spending money.

It’s up to you to vote “yes” or “no” on these two state wide ballot questions.