Senate Sets Monday Vote on Open Space Question
The Senate will return to the state Capitol Monday for a vote to revive a plan to put an open space question on the November ballot, Senate President Stephen Sweeney told The Associated Press on Friday.
The resolution asks voters to approve long-term funding for open space through sales taxes already collected. If OK’d by voters, up to $200 million per year in sales tax collections would be dedicated to open space preservation for the next 30 years.
“We’re going to give it every effort to get it passed,” said Sweeney, who plans to allow members to vote throughout the day to accommodate those who are cutting into vacation to travel to Trenton to vote. Lawmakers must vote in person.
Open space is the only item on the Senate’s agenda, he said.
If the Senate approves the resolution, the Assembly could beat the deadline by calling for a vote in the next week.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver indicated to The AP on Thursday night that she would try to call for a vote next Thursday if the measure passes the Senate.
Gov. Chris Christie’s signature is not required, but the resolution must pass by super-majorities in both houses to get on the ballot this year. That means it needs 24 of 40 votes in the Senate and 48 of 80 in the Assembly.
A similar resolution passed the Senate in June by a vote of 36-2, but it stalled in the Assembly after concerns surfaced that a long-term sales tax dedication would drain money from other programs and services funded with sales tax revenue.
This resolution caps the amount of sales tax revenues that can be directed to open space at $200 million. The previous one dedicated a fraction of sales tax collections with no cap, for a total cost of around $17 billion.
New Jersey voters have supported more than a dozen open space borrowing initiatives dating back a half-century without ever rejecting one.
But proponents have been working toward a long-term solution that doesn’t rely on borrowing.
Sen. Bob Smith, who leads the Senate Environment Committee, says he believes the compromise resolution will have bipartisan support just as the original proposal did. The bigger question, he said, is how many senators will be within driving distance of Trenton on Monday.
If the resolution fails to advance, Oliver says a stop-gap borrowing bill would be one option for replenishing the open space preservation funds for a year or two while the terms of longer-term funding are ironed out.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)