Smith optimistic open space votes will be found

TRENTON – It may be one of the more unusual and interesting voting sessions in some time.

The Senate has scheduled a 9 a.m. session Monday to consider SCR160, a measure to use sales tax revenue to fund open space preservation.

Although the session will begin early, don’t expect it to end quickly.

According to Democratic Sen. Bob Smith, a prime sponsor of the measure, the board will open at 9 and remain open until about 5 p.m.

Because this is a proposed constitutional amendment that backers hope to see on this year’s ballot, a simple majority won’t suffice, he explained.  A two-thirds majority is needed, or 24 votes.

He said that Senate President Steve Sweeney is working hard on behalf of the effort. “I believe we’re going to have 15 Democrats voting on Monday,” Smith said.

In addition, he said that Sen. Christopher Bateman, a prime sponsor on the Republican side, is also working for support. Bateman could not be reached immediately for comment Friday. Smith said he believes that between both parties they can produce the necessary votes.

Even if it passes the Senate, the Assembly would have to return by Aug. 1 and vote as well.

“I think senators on both parties realized that we’re at a real crossroads in open space,’’ Smith said. “All the money’s gone.’’

The last round of funding in prior bond issues is exhausted.  The sales tax idea, he hopes, would be a sustainable fund for years to come.

The damage done by Superstorm Sandy and the risk of future major storms adds another element of urgency, he said.

“If we want a storm-resilient New Jersey we need to have a thriving open space program,’’ Smith said. Land that is flood prone is a priority under this initiative. There is $300 million in federal money available to purchase such properties, and Smith said the resolution would add to that.

"The governor still has to come to bat."
—Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, on Atlantic City.