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Competing open-space funding schemes could leave program broke

TOM JOHNSON / NJ SPOTLIGHT –  From perhaps one perspective, yesterday counted as a good day for the environmental movement. In both the Senate and the Assembly, legislative committees advanced measures that would create new funds to protect open space and farmland, as well as preserve the state’s historic structures.

The only problem is that the approaches taken by the respective panels are at odds, with neither side seemingly expressing any interest in compromising. If no one budges, it could leave the state’s highly popular open-space preservation program with little or no money to dish out in the coming year.

In the Assembly Budget Committee, a measure to put a $200 million open-space bond issue on the ballot in November easily cleared the panel, even as its supporters conceded it was a stop-gap measure and would only provide funding for one year.

In the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the panel, revived a slightly modified resolution (SCR-165) that would ask voters in the fall to approve a constitutional amendment dedicating up to $200 million a year, or 2.4 percent of state sales tax revenue, whichever is less, over the next 30 years. The measure would not take effect until 2015 …