Why I’m voting ‘no’ on the open space bond question

By Scott Olson

I will be voting “no” on an open space question for the first time in my life, a decision that will perhaps come as a surprise to many of my grassroots environmentalist friends.

It was certainly not an easy choice, being a member of Byram’s Open Space Committee, and given the enthusiastic support I gave to the issue when it was on the ballot in 2007. But it was that very effort — plus the new perspective as an elected official — that most influences my decision today.

First, those of us advocating for the ballot measure in 2007 were flat-out lied to by politicians who lack the backbone to make difficult choices and do the right thing this year: implement a water user fee to properly safeguard the resources protecting our drinking water supply. We were promised that the 2007 bonding decision would be a temporary, stop-gap measure, and that a stable, permanent source of open space funding would be on the ballot for 2009. That didn’t happen.

Shame on those who lied, and shame on the conservation leaders who are once again more than willing to continue to accept these temporary funding “hand-me-downs” at the further expense of upstream taxpayers, rather than demanding the “new clothes” they want and deserve, funded fairly by all New Jersey residents who benefit from it.

I believe that far too many “downstream” water users take what happens for granted when turning on that tap. The fresh, clean and safe water that flows right now is being subsidized by upstream municipalities who for years have battled developers — and now rapidly increasing tax rates — to protect that resource. Everyone who benefits from clean water needs to help fund its protection. A water user fee is a fair and equitable way to ensure that those protecting our drinking water supply are properly compensated for doing so.

But perhaps more importantly, my perspective since 2007 has changed drastically after having gone through two tough budget processes as an elected councilman in Byram Township. I’ve seen firsthand the damage done — by both Democrats and Republicans in Trenton — to the financial well-being of our state.

I’ve seen our state aid drop, and our “unfunded mandates” increase. I’ve seen nearly double-digit increases in health insurance costs. I’ve witnessed public worker unions — knowing a “legally-corrupt” state binding arbitration process will support their case — demanding 4 percent or greater wage increases in an economy where private sector workers are taking pay cuts to preserve their jobs, if they still have jobs to keep.

In my own town, I’m watching in agony as an obscene abuse of bonding for a transportation project begins to take place — the widening of less than a mile of Route 206 — at the incredible cost of approximately $40 million. Using Transportation Trust Fund bonded money, that project will cost the tax payers nearly $100 million before it is paid off.

Byram Township and Sussex County, like many municipalities and counties statewide, have a permanent, dedicated open space tax, still levied despite a faltering economy. I am proud of the work that Byram has done to achieve preservation of some incredible parcels in our town using those funds, matched in part in most cases by Green Acres funding.

I will continue to advocate for open space protection in my town, and statewide. But it’s time for the state to take the example set by these municipalities and counties and create a dedicated, long-term source for open space funding.

For the last decade or longer, politicians in Trenton — on both sides of the aisle — have borrowed and bonded with our tax dollars like a teenager with a brand new credit card, their supporters lobbying for this spending and exerting “peer pressure” to do so.  But the bill has come due, at an exorbitant price. Just look at your local property tax bill and tell me if you are happy with it. It’s time to cut up the credit cards and show a little tough love to the misbehaving kids, and vote no on any further borrowing, no matter how “worthy” the cause.

And come Wednesday, no matter what the results of the ballot question, you can count on me to continue fighting fiercely for a stable, long-term and dedicated source of open space funding, so that we can continue to protect the precious natural resources that remain threatened within our state. I hope all of you will join me in that effort.

With all that said, I’ve assembled some editorials and opinion pieces from the biggest “movers and shakers” of conservation groups and newspapers statewide to help you with an informed vote on Ballot Question One this Tuesday. Read the opinions below, and make your own choice.

Guest contributor Scott Olson is deputy mayor of Byram Township.

Posted by Green Jersey on November 1st, 2009 | Filed in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

One Response to “Why I’m voting ‘no’ on the open space bond question”

  1. in the right Says:

    Your points make sense but you reached the conclusion that undercuts your cause. This $400m is the ONLY money available to compensate landowners whose land keeps our water clean. And if this ballot issue fails, legislators won’t want to ask voters for ANY money to keep water clean, and certainly not as much as the landowners deserve. so, I must vote YES on public question 1!

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