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Half a Win For NJ Open Space Bill [AUDIO]

The full State Senate could only muster 22 votes Monday on a measure that would ask voters to dedicate a flat $200 million annually in sales-tax revenues to saving open space and farmland, and buying up flood-prone areas.

Open Space
Matt Cardy, Getty Images

It would take 24 votes in the Upper House and 48 in the General Assembly to place the question on this year’s ballot.

If the Senate passes the measure again next year with at least 21 votes and the Assembly passes it this year and next with at least 41 votes, the question would be on the 2014 ballot.

“Over the weekend the Governor’s office called every Republican Senator and threatened them with their political lives and they’re off the bill,” said co-sponsor, Sen. Bob Smith. “Because of the front office fear and intimidation, many of my fine Republican colleagues are not voting for this and that’s a tragedy.”

Three weeks ago, a bill that would have been far costlier passed pass the Upper House by a margin of 36-2. Just two Republican Senators voted in favor of the amended legislation yesterday. They were bill co-sponsor Kip Bateman and Diane Allen.

Gov. Chris Christie’s office did not respond to a request seeking comment about Smith’s claim of front office intimidation. Allen did have something to say.

“The Governor’s office often weighs in and lets us know what they feel and what they think,” said Allen. “Nobody said to me, you know, ‘You have to vote one way or another.’ I’m sure like other Senators I make up my own mind.”

Sen. President Steve Sweeney insisted he could have gotten the 24 votes he wanted because vacationing Democratic Senators Fred Madden and Linda Greenstein were prepared to fly back to Trenton and provide those votes. Sweeney says he spoke with Democratic leaders in the Assembly who told him they would not post the measure for a vote this Thursday which would be in advance of the Aug. 4 deadline for passage to get the question on this year’s ballot.

“We had two Senators en route to the State House to get us the required 24 votes to put this issue on the ballot,” said Sweeney. “However, we were given clear indications that the Assembly did not have the votes to pass this issue which would have prevented the referendum from going on the ballot this year.”

In a statement, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver said, “The Senate president and Senate sponsor need to remember the true reason why the blll did not get 24 votes today – the lack of support from Senate Republicans and Gov. Christie.”

The New Jersey Keep It Green coalition is expressing disappointment in what its chairman calls the Senate Republicans’ ‘flip-flopping on landmark legislation.’

“We are extremely disappointed that so far many New Jersey’s Republican Senators with the exception of (co-sponsor) Senator (Kip) Bateman are voting against allowing voters to decide whether the state should dedicate funding to protect open space, water supplies and flood-prone areas, farmland and historic sites throughout the state,” said Keep It Green chairman Tom Gilbert. “These same senators just a month ago voted in favor of dedicated funding for Green Acres, Blue Acres, Farmland and Historic Preservation programs, and now they are flip-flopping. New Jersey voters deserve to know why they have had such a sudden change of heart.”

The GOP is also taking hits from Sweeney.

“Unfortunately, eight Republican Senators who voted “yes” less than a month ago on a similar measure, turned their backs on New Jersey and open space efforts,” said Sweeney. “We would have easily had 24 votes if Republicans had simply voted the same way they did a few weeks ago. However, passing the bill today still allows us to pass it again next year and get it on the ballot in 2014. We are not done. We have every intention to get this on the ballot next year.”

As per the state constitution, if approved by the General Assembly before the end of the year, the legislation will be placed on the November 2014 ballot if an identical bill is then passed by both houses next year.

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