Monday, October 30, 2006

2006 General Election - Star Ledger - Editorial: Approve public questions

Published in the Star Ledger, Friday, October 27, 2006

Approve the public questions

New Jersey's state parks are in desperately bad shape, have been for years, and for a simple reason: Lawmakers and governors have consistently underfunded them through good and bad budget times.

So historic buildings go unrepaired, nature programs are cur tailed or cut, trails left unmaintained, worker ranks squeezed and trimmed and squeezed some more. The neglect has gone on so long that the backlog of repair and other work has risen to more than $200 million.

Voters have a rare chance on Election Day to reverse that inexcusable slide. Voting "yes" on Public Question No. 2 will provide a steady, stable source of funding to begin restoring the state parks while also supplying money for work in local and county parks and for buying land to create parks.

All this can be accomplished without new taxes. Surplus corporate tax dollars now constitutionally dedicated to, but no longer needed for, underground storage tank cleanups will be shifted to give the parks $15 million a year through 2015 and $32 million a year after that.

Parks are vital to the quality of life in America's most crowded state, and $15 million isn't all that much to spread from Cape May to Sussex County. The dedicated money should be augmented with yearly infusions from the state budget. But the constitutional dedication would ensure that lawmakers can't return to their habit of gobbling up all park maintenance money to plug the budget hole du jour. Every resident should vote "yes" on Public Question No. 2.

The same is true of Public Question No. 3, which would force politicians to use all of New Jersey's 10.5-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax for roads, bridges and mass transit. For years, lawmakers and state treasurers have happily siphoned off 1.5 cents of the gas tax to subsidize the general state budget, not because aging trains or pothole-pocked roads didn't need the money but because use of the money wasn't restricted. A "yes" vote will stop that nonsense and provide an additional $80 million or so each year for badly needed transportation projects.

Public Question No. 1 is less of a sure winner for residents. A "yes" vote on this measure would dedicate half of the recent one-penny increase in the sales tax to a special property tax reform fund. This year, that would amount to about $600 million. But neither Gov. Jon Corzine's administration nor legislators have decided how the money would be used.

Possibilities could include additional school aid to hold down local tax bills, or property tax credits or rebates. A Cor zine spokesman says the precise use of the money will be decided as part of the ongoing Legislative debate over property tax reduction strategies. All well and good, but it would be nice for voters to have some idea of how their money would be spent.

Still, since a "no" vote would mean the $600 million will go straight into the maw of the general state budget, formally earmarking it for tax relief is the better course. A "yes" vote on Public Question No. 3 is appropriate."

Link to online story.

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.