NJ Voters Won't See Open Space Question This Fall

By Angela Delli Santi
|  Monday, Jul 29, 2013  |  Updated 9:14 PM EDT
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NJ Voters Won't See Open Space Question This Fall

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New Jersey voters will not see a long-term open space funding question on ballots this fall, but they may be asked to approve a 30-year funding proposal next year.

The Senate fell two votes shy of the number needed to immediately advance the resolution after daylong voting Monday.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney ended voting around 8 p.m., 11 hours after it began. Though Sweeney took the unusual step of keeping the voting board open all day to accommodate members who were cutting into their vacations for the vote, the final tally was 22-8. Absentee votes were not allowed.

Sweeney, who needed 24 affirmative votes to send the resolution to the Assembly, said two members were on standby at airports ready to return to Trenton, but were called off after it became clear the Assembly speaker was not willing to post the bill on Thursday.

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Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver told The Associated Press last week that she would work to get her members to the Capitol Thursday if the Senate passed it with at least 24 votes.

Besides needing 24 out of 40 votes in the Senate, the resolution required 48 out of 80 votes in the Assembly to be placed on this year's ballot. Alternately, it can be put to voters in November 2014 with simple majority votes of 21 and 41 this year and next.

The resolution would ask voters to dedicate up to $200 million a year to open space from sales tax revenue already being collected.

Several members of the 40-member chamber were out-of-state, including Democrats Linda Greenstein, who was in Maine, and Jim Beach, who was in the Caribbean. Sen. Jeff Van Drew drove directly to the capitol Monday afternoon after flying in from Hong Kong.

Sen. Bob Smith, a Democrat who sponsored the resolution, said Gov. Chris Christie and his staff called Republican senators over the weekend to strong-arm them into not voting for the resolution.

Because of the front office's fear and intimidation, many of my fine Republican colleagues are not voting for this, and that's a tragedy,'' Smith said.

The governor, whose signature is not required on the resolution, denied influencing the vote.

Only two Republicans out of 16 voted for the resolution Monday _ Sens. Diane Allen of Burlington and Kip Bateman of Somerset. Allen said she was not told by the governor how to vote.

Eight Republicans who backed a similar resolution in June switched their votes. Several others did not vote Monday.

The first resolution passed the Senate 36-2 before stalling in the Assembly amid concerns that it contained no cap and could cost a total of $17 billion.

"Republicans, eight of them who voted yes, turned around and voted no on a bill that was actually less expensive, which is really confusing,'' said Sweeney.

Former Gov. Tom Kean Sr. voiced his support for the proposal and for the importance of putting it on the upcoming ballot, only to watch his son, Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., and most of the Republican caucus, vote no.

Opponents say redirecting sales tax revenue would deplete the general fund, leaving other programs lacking.

Christie has wanted to offer a 10 percent tax cut, but Democrats have refused to go along, arguing that the state doesn't have the money. One year of open space funding could pay for the first six months of the tax cut.

Christie and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno top the ballot this November in the race for re-election against Sen. Barbara Buono and labor leader Milly Silva.
 
 

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