There's More Than A Governor's Race, Jersey. You Get To Decide On Cleanups, Libraries.

TRENTON -- New Jersey has a strong record of making polluting companies pay to restore the damaged land and waterways they've left behind, environmental activists say.

But there's a problem: elected officials are often willing to use some of that money to plug holes in the state budget instead of cleaning up polluted messes. 

Besides electing a new governor and a slate of state and local officials, New Jersey voters will decide whether this syphoning of remediation funds should be stopped.  

Voters also will have their say on whether the state should borrow $125 million to renovate and modernize long-neglected libraries.

A "yes" vote on ballot question 2 would amend the state constitution to prevent future governors and the legislature from repurposing money earmarked for restoring land and waterways tainted by pollution.

Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, said Democrats and Republicans alike "have been very creative in how they shift money around to make up for bad budgeting or planning." 

But the constitutional amendment to stop the practice was sponsored by Democrats and Republicans.

The most recent and glaring example of this is the Christie administration's controversial settlement with Exxon Mobil in a decade-long lawsuit over refinery pollution.

New Jersey dropped its long-fought suit with the Texas oil giant for $225 million despite the state's expert testimony valuing the damage at nearly $9 billion. When the settlement was approved, budget numbers showed the administration planned to dedicate just $50 million -- the minimum required by law -- to restoration projects.

The amendment would repeal the law that set the $50 million cap.

Potosnak said he doesn't sense this is a "difficult sell" for people. He hasn't encountered any opposition. 

"Together we can safeguard legal settlements paid by polluters and ensure they go to restore parks, rivers and streams, fish, wildlife populations, and habitat," said Potosnak, who also chairs New Jersey Keep It Green, a coalition of more than 150 environmental organizations backing the ballot question campaign. 

A poll by the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University said their is broad support for the measure, with 87 percent favoring it and 9 percent opposed.

Voters -- albeit in fewer numbers - also support the library ballot question. The Stockton Polling Institute survey said 56 percent said they would vote yes and 39 percent would vote no. The Oct. 18-24 poll has a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points. 

The funds would be doled out in grants that would pay for half the cost of projects; the municipality or county would have to raise the other half of the money.

The New Jersey Library Association made the case for the bond request by polling its members three years ago. It found half of the library facilities in the state do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and 60 percent have outgrown their space. 

Although there were 44 million visits were made to New Jersey libraries, "Technology was frequently cited as insufficient for user needs," according to the association's website.

"It has been over fifteen years since the passage of the last Public Library Construction Bond Act," according to the association's website. "That bill was extremely successful with 68 communities constructing or renovating library facilities. Library services were transformed for many communities with the addition of new computer facilities, upgraded teen centers and large community meeting rooms.

"We find the need today is greater than ever," according to the association's statement promoting the ballot quesion. "Unfortunately, with the difficulties of local budgets, few libraries receive regular capital appropriations. This bill is desperately needed by many communities."

Americans for Prosperity, a conservative public policy group, is urging New Jerseyans to leave the fundraising to charitable groups which support libraries.

"New Jersey just can't afford to take on more debt right now," accoridng to a position paper by AFP, a national group founded by oil and energy magnates the Koch Brothers.

"The state's pension program is only 37 percent funded, leaving taxpayers with an unfunded pension liability of $235 billion. Until lawmakers can figure out how to pay this massive debt, it makes no sense to borrow even more." 

Original Article