New Jersey: Bring back millions in funding for Green Spaces | Opinion

By Isabel Molina and Jasmine Moreano | Mosaic guest columnists

 

New Jersey could lose scores of acres of green space and farmland because of the recent decision by Gov. Phil Murphy and the New Jersey Legislature to let the Corporate Business Tax (CBT) surcharge expire.

The CBT surcharge provided necessary funding for the acquisition, preservation and stewardship of open space, farmland and historic sites throughout New Jersey. Now that it has expired, each county in the state is losing — on average — $2,500,000 a year in open space funding. Altogether, preservation programs will lose $480 million over the next 10 years, and that’s before we account for inflation.

Governor Murphy has proposed restoring a new surcharge — a 2.5% fee on all earnings for companies making a profit of at least $10 million per year — to provide a dedicated funding source for NJ Transit, a system in dire need of stable and reliable funding. While we desperately need transit funding, our farmland, open space, greenways, and historic sites cannot be forgotten.

This year’s missed funding could have helped the state acquire hundreds of acres of green space across New Jersey, the most densely developed state in the country. This would not only provide valuable recreational opportunities; it will protect our waterways and help mitigate the worst effects of climate change. Green spaces help alleviate extreme heat and provide for flood storage. Further development on open, green spaces exacerbates the problem.

This is also an issue of environmental justice. We may be the Garden State, but an estimated 76% of people who live in low-income communities of color are in places deprived of nature. Communities of color experience roughly triple the rate of nature deprivation compared with predominantly white communities. Nature deprivation leads to less opportunities for recreation and leisure and more densely developed areas are more prone to facing challenges with local water and air quality.

Outdoor recreation is also a huge moneymaker for the state and was valued at $20.3 billion in New Jersey in 2021. That can include things like boating, recreational vehicles, gardening and outdoor concerts. Investing in our open spaces makes good economic sense, too.

This decrease in funding also affects farmland. New Jersey has successfully used CBT funding to preserve farmland across the state, preventing arable lands from being snatched up by developers, so we can’t grind these programs to a halt. New Jersey farmers need their land protected to help provide local, healthy and fresh food to the over 9 million residents who live in the Garden State, especially when as many as 800,000 people still don’t have adequate healthy and affordable food options.

The organization City Green has utilized the Green Acres program, a program partially funded through the CBT, to foster equitable access to green spaces while providing sustainable, local food access. Based in Clifton, they host a community-centric space, featuring events, education and fresh food access at the Farm Eco-Center.

City Green’s sustainable regenerative agriculture practices support the conservation of the local ecology. The Green Acres program provides opportunities for New Jersey’s residents to participate with nature and the outdoors and the CBT surcharge supports greater access to these spaces.

New Jerseyans strongly support preserving open space. In 2014, through a concerted educational and outreach campaign by the Keep It Green coalition, New Jersey voters approved a measure to provide long-term sustainable funding for open space, farmland, and historic preservation through a portion of the CBT.

Join us in our fight to protect precious natural resources and recreational opportunities for future generations by urging the governor and legislature to restore the CBT surcharge in the budget or through legislation. Our access to clean water, air, and open spaces depends on it.

Isabel Molina is the environmental justice policy associate at New Jersey LCV, a non-partisan organization whose mission is to elect environmental champions, hold public officials accountable, and support laws that protect our environment and improve the quality of people’s lives.

Jasmine Moreano works at City Green doing direct community engagement. She fosters community participation and collaboration in the greening and beautification efforts that liven our cities and neighborhoods, and oversees all food access initiatives ensuring affordable, local, farm-fresh food is available to everyone, regardless of income.