By Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor
Not long after Senate President Stephen Sweeney announced the rare all-day open voting session was in effect, the fate of the open space bill looked bleak.
“Over the weekend, the governor’s office called every Republican senator and threatened them with their political lives and they’re off the bills,” said Sen. Bob Smith.
“It’s a sad day in New Jersey to see that when people elect legislators, they’re not voting their conscience because they’re scared of threats from political bosses like Mr. Christie,” Sen. Dick Codey said.
The legislation would ask voters to amend the state constitution to dedicate $200 million in sales tax revenues over the next 30 years for critical open space, water supply and flood-plain protection, farmland and historic preservation programs across the state. Sen. Diane Allen was among the few Republicans to vote in favor of the measure.
When asked if it was true that the governor called Republicans and asked them not to support the bill, Allen said, “I didn’t get a call from the governor and I don’t know that anybody else did as well. I think in general the governor is not a supporter of doing it this way. I think he’s supportive of open space. He wants to see it done perhaps in a different way.”
Meanwhile, Republican Budget Officer Declan O’Scanlon called today’s vote “untimely and irresponsible fiscal policy.” But Democrats point out that just a few weeks ago, a handful of Republicans supported a similar measure.
“This bill is more conservative, less money is being provided for open space in the future. Today, almost every Republican would be off the bill, except for Sen. Bateman,” Smith said.
Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr. was among those who previously supported the bill but today voted against it. He and several other Republicans declined to comment. Meanwhile, supporters of the measure point out the benefits of New Jersey’s open space preservation programs which have received overwhelming support in all 13 previous ballot questions.
“The Green Acres program has preserved over 650,000 acres over the last 30 years. And the farmland preservation program has preserved some 200,000 acres over the last 30 years,” said Tim Gilbert of New Jersey Keep It Green.
And it’s not just about preserving space in rural areas. Green Acres funding has also supported projects at 1,100 parks in urban communities like in Newark. And Sen. Smith touts the benefits of the Blue Acres program, which is helping to acquire flood prone properties.
“The second highest priority in the open space program is acquisition of flood prone property,” Smith said.
The measure would have to pass both houses by the Aug. 4 deadline to get on the ballot this November. And time is running out. That could push the issue onto next year’s ballot.