Now that New Jersey has allocated the last of the funds approved by voters in 2009 for open space preservation,  lawmakers are examining ways of providing money for future preservation efforts in the most densely populated state in the union.

 

Most of the groups testifying Monday before the Senate Environment Committee support dedicating $200 million annually in state sales tax revenue for at least 20 years to provide a stable long-term source of open space funding.

Another bond act is not the way to go, says Eileen Swan of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

"We've used it in the past. However, we wanted to move away from that short-term Band-Aid approach," Swan said.

That approach could mean reductions for other environmental programs, warns Mike Pisauro of the New Jersey Environmental Lobby.

"Protecting open space is vitally important, but protecting clean water, protecting contamination sites, protecting clean air are also vitally important," he said. "So we cannot sacrifice one program for the other."

Another proposal calls for a tax on water use to fund open space projects. Kelly Mooij of the Keep It Green Coalition says that might not generate enough money.

"This would represent a 25 percent reduction, and we will not be able to meet all of our critical needs if we do that," she said.

The director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, however, favors that plan.

"We think the water fee is the best way to go and we can adjust it upward and come up with some supplemental funding to get it close to $200 million," said Jeff Tittel.

Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, chairman of the environment and energy committee, is hoping for a consensus on a funding mechanism so it can go on the November ballot for voters to consider.