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Christie’s budget diverts $20M in ‘green’ funds, sets state for familiar fight

Thursday, March 31, 2016   (0 Comments)
Share | 3/28/2016

Nearly $20 million in corporate business taxes is paying for management and salaries at state parks this year -- a practice the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services claims is not authorized under language in the current budget approved by lawmakers. If Gov. Chris Christie gets his way, next year’s budget will divert another $20 million from an open-space and farmland preservation program to manage the park system once again, setting up a new dispute between the executive and legislative branches over how environmental funds are spent. The amount that the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is using to manage its park system reflects about one-quarter of the $80 million dedicated from corporate business taxes for the acquisition program annually, which was approved by voters in a November 2104 constitutional amendment. The dispute appears to revolve around powers granted to the governor and Legislature under the state constitution and the difference between appropriating funds and expending public money. No one disputes that the parks need to be funded; the debate is about how. In the past, parks management was financed through the general fund from money collected from various taxes and surcharges. When Christie proposed using a portion of the corporate business taxes dedicated for open space, lawmakers objected, and instead suggested using money from the states Clean Energy Fund. Christie line-item vetoed the language concerning the Clean Energy Fund to “preserve the original intent’’ of his recommendations in his budget appropriation. Meanwhile, a bill is moving through the Legislature that would appropriate $146 million over the next two years for open space, farmland preservation, and protection of historic structures. Conservationists and others say it is important for the bill to be approved because some of the programs have run out of funding.

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