Those who only pass through New Jersey may wonder why we residents would ever call it The Garden State. Our daughter learned this while introducing herself at a gathering of fellow freshmen at college; when she said she was from New Jersey, a snide questioner replied, "New Jersey, eh? What exit?"
Little do they know of the magnificent farmlands and woodlands and wetlands that lie beyond the toll booths. Little do they know of the parks both rural and urban, of the pinelands, of lakes large and small, of the bucolic shaded towpaths that line our sixty-six miles of Delaware and Raritan Canal, or the sometimes serene, sometimes tumultuous Delaware River the graces our entire western boundary. (And you are already thinking of your own cherished spots, wondering why I haven't named them.)
We have a lot to be proud of. Pride not just in the amazing state we call home, but also pride in our own steadfast funding over the years for protecting and conserving what makes New Jersey so special. Those just passing through can't possibly comprehend how serious we are about preserving what is lovely, and restoring what has been defiled.
But little do those passing through know, either, of the rising threat to these treasures that define us as The Garden State. The money that we voters allocated in past years has enabled us to fund our Green Acres and farmland protection and historic preservation programs, but now it has run out. The money was wisely invested in keeping New Jersey's open spaces open and clean water clean, and mopping up environmental messes left behind by polluters perhaps heedless of the damage they were doing.
But now all that prior funding is gone -- well spent, to be sure, but gone -- and so we must decide either to replenish it, or to witness the inexorable decline of what we have worked hard to preserve for ourselves and future generations.
There's an irony in here, too: the population of our state (already the most dense in the U.S.) continues to grow, which means more pressure to develop our remaining open space; and yet that increased population comes here seeking those very open spaces and even more of them.
What to do, what to do?
Of course one option is to hang it up. We've done enough. Paving over the rest of New Jersey is inevitable. Let's change the channel.
But for anyone who cares about clean water and the legacy we leave our children and grandchildren, the only true option is to refresh the funding for our admirable and exceptionally effective efforts. And we voters will have the chance to do just that at the polls on November 4, when we can vote "Yes" on Public Question 2.
If the ballot measure passes it means a dedicated source of state funding for open space, farmland and historic preservation as well as important other environmental programs that protect clean water.
The dedication of existing Corporate Business Tax revenues will yield about $71 million per year to preserve open space for the first four years and then about $117 million annually thereafter without raising taxes.
Back in 1998, we voters dedicated about $200 million per year for such efforts. So while the funding is somewhat reduced this go 'round it is still good enough to provide stability, keep our invaluable momentum going, and secure the very most critical initiatives to protect our statewide garden.
Among those essential initiatives are the preservation of some 650,000 acres that ensure future supplies of clean water as well as recreational opportunities for ourselves and those who come here as tourists leaving money in their wake.
And then of course there's that little matter of our being "The Garden State." According to the N.J. Department of Agriculture, we must preserve some 350,000 acres of currently-unprotected farmland in order to sustain a viable agricultural industry. Were that industry to wither and fail, our calling ourselves the garden state might be slightly specious (notwithstanding our other lovely, non-cultivated green spaces.)
When you go to the polls on November 4 to vote "Yes" on Public Question 2, the New Jersey Clean Water and Open Space Dedication, you will be in good company. A super-majority 58 out of 67 members of our NJ State Assembly voted to place Public Question 2 on the ballot for us. This kind of rare near-unanimity and bipartisanship speaks loudly and well for value of the amendment, especially in light of the fact that the Assembly considered and defeated 165 other prospective Questions, and for "NJ Keep It Green", an extraordinary coalition of 185 statewide, local, and regional organizations which championed this measure on our behalf while we were otherwise occupied. To learn more about the amendment, check out njkeepitgreen.org.
Meanwhile, mark your calendar for November 4 as the day when you will join with a super-majority of our fellow voters in tending our precious garden together.