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Open space question to be placed on this year’s ballot

If New Jersey voters approve it in November, a percentage of the existing Corporation Business Tax would be set aside and dedicated to preserving open space, farmland and historic sites.

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Open Space
Matt Cardy, Getty Images

The full legislature has approved a measure to place the question on this year’s ballot. Environmentalists are thrilled, but the business community is not.

“For 12 years now, we’ve been trying to find a permanent source of stable funding for open space. Assuming that the voters will support this we finally have it,” said Assembly Environment Committee vice chair John McKeon (D-Madison). “I have every bit of confidence that New Jerseyans understand how important this program is, not just to their quality of life, but to their economic well-being.”

If approved, 4 percent of the CBT would be set aside for the program until Fiscal Year 2020, when 6 percent would be dedicated for that purpose. It is estimated that by the end of FY 2019, there will be $117 million in funds, but that could change if CBT collections increase or decrease.

“Increasing the constitutional dedication by 2 percent in FY 2020 is going encumber about $50 million more a year in perpetuity and that’s going to be the precursor to a tax increase on business. When you’re tying the hands of government, government is going to look to other sources of funds and that’s going to be tax increases going forward,” said David Brogan, first vice president with the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.

McKeon disagreed with Brogan’s prediction. The CBT dedication should boost the state’s economy because a portion of the funds will help New Jersey’s $40 billion a year tourism industry, McKeon said.

“This is just the opposite of a tax increase. This isn’t, as it we did it in the old days, borrow and then pay back. This is really about our economic well-being, not necessarily about our natural environment – although the two things mesh very well,” McKeon said.

Every dollar invested in preservation yields a $10 return, according to McKeon.

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