NJ Leader in Conservation Funding Votes

WASHINGTON, DC-On November 4, voters approved 64 ballot measures in 16 states to create approximately $1.2 billion in new public money to protect land for parks and open space, according to the Trust for Public Land (TPL).

Overall, 64 of 77 local and state measures nationwide were successful-a success rate of 83 percent. This is an increase from November 2002, when 75 percent of open space ballot measures were successful nationwide.

New Jersey was again a leader in approving land conservation funding. State Ballot Question No. 1 received 65 percent support to increase funds available through the Garden State Preservation Trust Fund. Another major milestone was the passage of a Hudson County measure, making New Jersey the first state in which every county has approved an open space ballot measure. Sixty-one percent of voters approved a ballot initiative to increase property taxes in Hudson County to provide an estimated $40 million for the acquisition and improvement of open space and historic places. Statewide, 34 of 41 conservation finance measures put before voters passed (results for two are still pending).

Among the largest measures:

  • Bergen County, New Jersey: 60% yes ($214 million)
  • Arapahoe County, Colorado: 54% yes ($170 million)
  • Montgomery County, Pennsylvania: 78% yes ($150 million)
  • New Jersey Statewide: 65% yes ($150 million)
  • Carroll County, Georgia: 67% yes ($80 million)
  • Ann Arbor, Michigan: 67% yes ($58 million)

A complete list of results from local and state balloting on conservation and parks is available here. The results of Tuesday’s votes will also be published as a report in early 2004.

“2003 is another year of very strong voter support for open space protection across the country,” said Will Rogers, TPL president. “Even as the federal government and states suffer from budget deficits, American voters continue to demonstrate that they are willing pay to protect the places that are special to them.”

“Voters of all political persuasions have again voiced strong support for protection of natural lands, clean water, and safe communities,” said Ernest Cook, TPL Director of Conservation Finance. “This is a reaction to the continuing problems of sprawl that threaten the quality of life in so many areas.”

“Local measures continue to be most popular in states that offer incentives,” said Cook. This November, 40 local measures were on the ballot in the state of New Jersey alone-more than half the total nationwide. The New Jersey measures are property tax increases that will be matched by grants and loans from the state.

Earlier in 2003, a total of 35 ballot measures for land conservation were approved by voters in 15 different states. In total, they raised $579 million for conservation-related purposes. Added to the November results, the total local and state open space funding created at the ballot box in 2003 is now approximately $1.8 billion.

Cook notes, “State legislatures, county commissions, and city councils are continuing to give high priority to land conservation, even in tough economic times.”

Most of the measures tabulated by LandVote are property tax increases-like the measures in New Jersey-or general obligation bonds. Bonds are a way for communities to borrow money in order to save land now, while paying off the debt over the next 20 or 30 years. The dollar amounts of each measure are either the total amount of the bond, or in the case of a new tax, the total of the revenue created over the lifetime of the levy (usually 10 to 20 years). When a ballot measure contains no sunset provision, LandVote estimates its revenue total based on a 20-year duration.

TPL, established in 1972, is the only national nonprofit working exclusively to protect land for human enjoyment and well-being. TPL helps conserve land for recreation and to improve the health and quality of life of American communities. TPL depends upon the support of individuals, corporations, and foundations to achieve its mission. Through its conservation finance program, TPL advises state and local governments on the design of new programs to fund parks and land conservation.