Home > Uncategorized > Public Strongly Supports Restoration of Parks & DEP Cuts Stolen By Open Space Measure

Public Strongly Supports Restoration of Parks & DEP Cuts Stolen By Open Space Measure

State Parks Lease & Concession Money Was Diverted, Along With All Capital Funds

Confusion About What “Stewardship” Means and Would Fund

Keep It Green Coalition Recommendations Deeply Unpopular

I am just now reading the public comments on recommendations for open space implementation legislation, in preparation for Monday’s Senate Environment Committee discussion (see this to read the 336 page document).

Per the Committee’s agenda, they will be discussing the issue, but it doesn’t look like they will take any more testimony, at least not right now. Still, people are urged to call or email Committee members to refresh their memory.

Regardless, while I am not yet finished reviewing all the comments, so far am very pleased to note that the public overwhelmingly supports restoration of the deep cuts made by the open space diversion, especially for State Parks.

As the public learns the facts, they are becoming angry about not understanding the collateral damage and deep cuts to Parks and core DEP programs.

Public comments are running over 40 -1 AGAINST the Keep It Green Coalition recommendations.

Many share almost all our recommendations to the Legislature on how to allocate the funds, particularly in restoring Parks cuts, assuring urban equity in fund distribution, and restoring DEP water resource and site remediation cuts.

But, there is one serious misconception shared by many public commenters that I must clarify here.

Many commenters seek to have lease and concession revenues collected by State Parks – Liberty State Park in particular – returned to the Park that generated the revenues.

But, as I’ve been writing for months, the Keep It Green Coalition  already stole that lease and concession money!

The money collected in State Parks is now constitutionally dedicated to the new Open Space Fund.

The KIG coalition does not want the public to know that – to know that in addition to stealing the entire State Parks capital budget, that they also stole the lease and concession money.

And they also don’t want the public to figure out what a HUGE mistake they made by opposing dedication of Natural Resource Damage (NRD) settlement funds and expanding that NRD dedication to ALL cost recovery and enforcement settlement agreement funds.  The original introduced version of SCR84 included the NRD funds dedication. That provision could have been expanded by a simple amendment. Instead of seeking that amendment, the KIG fools OPPOSED IT ALL!

The Christie DEP diversion of $140 million of the $190 million Passaic Settlement is a perfect example of this HUGE ERROR made by the KIG folks, most of whom knew little to nothing about how these programs operate. Amazingly, some are now whining about this issue. Instead of whining, they should be kicking themselves in the butt.

As a result of opposing instead of expanding NRD to include all settlement funds, they missed a HUGE opportunity and played right into the chemical industry and business community’s arms. They have opposed having NRD and settlement money become a “ATM” – our cash cow – for Open Space since the Whitman Administration.

Shame on them for blowing this HUGE opportunity to have corporations fund the program – and instead stealing parks and DEP funds.

Getting back on topic: the Open Space Ballot measure constitutionally dedicated lease & concession money to the new Open Space fund. THAT MONEY IS DEDICATED TO THE NEW OPEN SPACE FUND> IT CAN”T GO BACK TO LSP.
It is legally impossible for that money to go back to the Park that generated it. It must first go into the new Statewide Open Space Fund created by passage of the Ballot. Then, the appropriation legislation allocates the total fund.
I’ve been saying this for over 6 months now – here is the language, again, from SCR84 SCS:
  1. (b) There shall be credited annually to a special account in the General Fund an amount equivalent to the revenue annually derived from leases and conveyances of lands acquired or developed by the State for recreation and conservation purposes. 

There is similar language in the fine print of the Interpretive Statement:

The amendment also changes, beginning July 1, 2015, some of the programs funded by the current dedication. The new dedication would be used mostly to preserve and steward open space, farmland, historic sites, and flood-prone areas. Funds would also be used to improve water quality, remove and clean up underground tanks, and clean up polluted sites. Lastly, the amendment dedicates money received from leases and other uses of State open space lands to pay for open space, farmland, and historic preservation. 

The Legislature can’t “dedicate” this revenue as the public has recommended. It is already now Constitutionally dedicated.

The only way they can fix the problem is by giving parks a percentage of the  total Open Space funds in the implementation legislation.

It is important that everyone understand this because not only does it reveal the poor judgement and selfishness of the KIG Coalition, but I think this explains why DEP amended the Meadowland bill to include LSP under the new MRC. 

ANY and ALL revenues collected by DEP at State parks – including LSP – must go to the new open space fund. That is constitutionally mandated 

But, it the Liberty State Park project is financed by the new MRC, then the revenues collected can go to MRC and pay operating expenses and debt service on any “tourist attractions” DEP wants to build to make LSP a “tourist destination”.

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