NJ ballot questions this November will decide how money is spent
If you thought New Jersey’s governor’s race was getting less attention than usual this year, consider that barely a peep has been said about two public questions on the statewide ballot.
Both have implications for state finances.
Question No. 1 asks if the state should borrow $125 million to build, equip and expand public libraries around the state.
Question No. 2 would amend the constitution to require any money the state receives from natural resource damage settlements would have to go toward environmental purposes.
Combined, the questions have generated less than $15,000 in campaign spending from supporters, nothing from any opponents and, at least so far, no public polling measuring how voters feel about either proposal.
Patricia Tumulty, executive director of the New Jersey Library Association, acknowledged there’s little public awareness of the library bond but noted that half of the state Legislature sponsored the resolution putting the question on the ballot. She said that’s an indication of widespread support.
“This is a great investment for New Jersey,” Tumulty said. It’s been a long time since we’ve had this kind of project that can really help both your local community and certainly provide economic development.”
The last library bond, for $45 million, was approved 17 years ago – by lawmakers, not the voters in a referendum. Tumulty said the $125 million in borrowing amounts to $1 per year per resident for the life of the bond; it would also have to be matched by $125 million in local funds.
“So when you look at $1 a year for what tremendous economic investment this could be throughout New Jersey, we think it really is shall we say a really good bang for your buck,” Tumulty said.
The money could be used to expand libraries, make them accessible to the disabled, improve HVAC systems or wi-fi that can handle the gadgets carried by the libraries’ 42 million annual visitors.
“There’s a lot of pent-up demand for this kind of project,” said Tumulty, who said the last bond led to 68 library projects.
The constitutional amendment that would lock up the use of money from environmental settlements comes after language has been repeatedly included in the annual state budget allowing any amounts over $50 million to be diverted for general state use. Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, said polluted neighborhoods are missing out.
“For many communities, this is a one-time opportunity to restore the environment,” Potosnak said.
The settlement money in question is separate from what is spent on cleanup efforts. It is used for things such as restoring recreational access to rivers, removing dams and creating parks. Debbie Mans, executive director and baykeeper for NY/NJ Baykeeper, said it’s important that all that money return to the impacted communities.
“The litigation was brought specifically for a specific injury to the public and to the environment, and that’s where the money should go back in to,” Mans said.
Six months after lawmakers voted to put the question on the ballot, they kept the provision in the state budget allowing the money to be poached again this year, Potosnak noted.
“Voters are really the only hope to ensure that this money goes to its intended purposes and communities are made whole,” he said.