Members of the Keep It Green Coalition (KIG) reacted favorably to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed 2012 budget, which provides a modest increase in funds for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), calls for an increase in parks and forestry appropriations and continues funding for several programs charged with protecting the state’s natural resources.
According to a release, "When state budget figures were released Tue., Feb. 22, it appeared that funding for the DEP was being cut by 9.8 percent. Due to the restructuring of the department’s debt service burden, which declined by nearly 90 percent, available funds for programs, staffing and operations actually would increase 5.3 percent, from $329.2 million to $346.9 million. No program or staffing cuts are proposed.
"In addition, $6.2 million in funding for the operations of the state’s parks and forests is being restored from the state’s general fund, assuring that all state parks will remain open. . . .
“New Jersey’s parks and natural areas are a smart investment,” said KIG chairman Tom Gilbert of the Trust for Public Land. “In these tough economic times, it is even more important for our citizens to have inexpensive places to recreate close to home, and parks provide that. Park improvement projects can also create jobs and help to revitalize struggling communities.”
Several sources of funding for environmental programs that in the past had been diverted to other purposes will be stabilized, restored or even increased in Gov. Christie’s budget. . . .
Tom Wells, director of government relations for The Nature Conservancy, stated that stabilization of funding for environmental protection was a move in the right direction. “In light of deep reductions over a period of many years in funding for DEP’s Division of Parks and Forestry, the proposed budget is a good first step,” he said. “The budget will begin to stabilize funding to protect and preserve New Jersey’s vast natural resources on which we all depend for clean water, clean air and outdoor recreation.”
"The commitment to parks funding was well received," the release stated, "even while advocates pointed to the need for greater long-term investments to address impacts from declining appropriations over the past two decades."
“We applaud the administration’s commitment to keep state parks open for the benefit of all residents of New Jersey,” said Gilbert. “However, the chronic lack of adequate funds to care for and maintain our parks and natural areas is severely undermining their ecological and recreational value. A long-term stable funding source is needed for the stewardship of these lands so that we can do more than keep the gates open.” . . .
KIG has long advocated for a stable, long-term source of funding that would provide reliable and adequate support to acquire, improve and maintain the parks, forests and watersheds that provide priceless benefits to all citizens.
“We are pleased that this Administration is taking a step in the right direction with this budget. We are glad to see that, combined with stabilizing funding for DEP, the Governor is moving steadily forward with the next round of funding for preservation of open space in response to the voter mandate of the 2009 Green Acres Bond Act,” said Kelly Mooij, NJ Keep it Green Coalition Coordinator. “These are lands that help to protect our water, conserve habitat and provide us with fresh, locally grown food and places to recreate. They are a vital part of what makes New Jersey attractive to residents and businesses and are an important part of the legacy we leave for our children and grandchildren.”