DEP budget cuts are backdoor polluters agenda
DEP Commissioner Jackson: cuts “do not make programmatic or fiscal sense.”
Governor Jon Corzine’s proposal to slash the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) budget by an additional 13% reflects either ignorance of how the Department’s budget is structured, or a back door attempt to appease business interests and roll back environmental protections.
DEP receives 76% of its operating budget from federal funds, polluters fees, and enforcement fines. This is a longstanding funding practice based on a “polluter pays” policy.
That means that only 24% of DEP’s budget is paid for by taxpayers. This amounts to less than one half of one percent of the State budget. There are virtually no taxpayers savings realized by DEP cuts. Worse, cuts could jeopardize receipt of federal funds.
The strengths of this budget policy are that polluters bear the burden of DEP regulatory oversight, not the taxpayers. The drawbacks, however, are that critical and popular programs like State parks, forestry, fish & wildlife, flood control, science, air & water quality monitoring, global warming, and policy & planning are severely underfunded and neglected.
Last year, only $65.3 million of DEP’s budget was paid for by taxpayers – almost half of that, $30 million, went to operation of the State Parks system. That’s right – the entire state environmental protection budget paid by taxpayers was just $65.3 million.
This year’s proposed cuts are in addition to last year’s 3% cut and the loss of over 200 people.
The Corzine cuts are in addition to draconian cuts by the Whitman Administration that were never restored during the McGreevey/Codey years..
But at least Whitman was honest in justifying her anti-environmental cuts as an effort to make NJ “Open for Business” and advance a regulatory relief agenda for the business community.
In contrast, Corzine wants it both ways: to be seen as pro-environment and so he hides behind pro-environmental rhetoric – all hat and no cattle. (see: NEW JERSEY ENVIRONMENTAL BUDGET SHRINKS BUT TASKS GROW — New Corzine Initiatives Will Worsen Already Large State Environmental Deficitshttp://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=836
Worse, cynically, Corzine knows that the hugely unpopular proposed closing of State Parks will prompt the Legislature to restore Parks cuts. So, he knows that this will result in other important program areas absorbing even deeper cuts. This is shortsighted and highly irresponsible.
Last year, DEP Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson made the polluter pays budget policy clear in testimony to the Senate Budget Committee. Jackson concluded:
“All of the areas covered by the General Fund [taxpayer supported] are broad based public functions for which it only makes sense for the state to support….Substantial cuts to areas of DEP that are supported by fees would likewise not make programmatic of fiscal sense” http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/legislativepub/govbudget2007-2008.asp
Jackson went on to recommend specific new sources of revenue to further reduce the taxpayer burden. Hundreds of millions of dollars could have been collected by DEP for so called “Natural Resource Damage” (NRD) injuries caused by toxic pollution. But NRD recoveries were strongly opposed by the business community. So, instead of pursuing this Jackson recommendation, Corzine caved in to the polluters and allowed the NRD statute of limitations to lapse, thereby stripping DEP of legal authority to recover these money damages to public resources. (see:NEW JERSEY FORFEITS HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS IN POLLUTION DAMAGES — Court Ruling Faults DEP for Failure to Enact Rules to Compensate Public http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=930
Make no mistake – proposed budget cuts at DEP provide virtually no taxpayer relief.
They are a thinly veiled back door attack on environmental protection under the guise of taxpayer relief.
DEP to Flood Victims: Protection “Cost Prohibitive”
$38 BILLION for tolls, $380 million for bond consultants, and NJ can’t find money to map where the flood risks are? http://www.nj.com/njvoices/index.ssf/2008/02/dep_to_flood_victims_protectio.html
As DEP Commissioner Jackson testified, such cuts do “not make programmatic or fiscal sense.”