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Mercer County Plastic Bag Question Fails as Bail and Open Space Measures Pass

c_election2014Voters in Mercer County rejected a public question asking voters to approve a five-cent tax for plastic shopping bags.

The measure, supported by Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes and the Freeholders and several area environmental groups, was voted down by 61 percent of the voters who cast votes in the election.  With 98 percent of the polling places in Mercer County reporting, the measure failed by a vote of 39,314 to 24,596.

New Jersey voters approved two public questions regarding bail reform and open space.

The bail reform passage  eliminates the constitutional right to bail for some offenses. Those accused of certain offenses can be held without the ability to post bond. The measure also allows those who can’t afford bond for certain charges to be released while awaiting trial. A coalition of groups, including the ACLU supported the measure.

“This is truly a historic day for New Jersey, one in which the people of our state recognized injustice and demanded that it change. A bipartisan effort in the Legislature, the governor’s signature and tonight’s overwhelming support at the polls puts New Jersey on the path toward greater justice,” said American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey Executive Director Udi Ofer. “Within a few years, we will no longer see thousands of people languishing in New Jersey jails simply because they cannot afford to post bail. Society does not benefit when people are made to await trial behind bars for months or even years simply because they cannot afford a few thousand dollars in bail. These debtors’ prisons must end. We will also see, for the first time, meaningful speedy trial protections in New Jersey.”

Ofer said the passage of the amendment is an important step toward creating a criminal justice system that treats people equitably regardless of their wealth.

“More reforms are needed and we have work ahead of us to achieve them, but, today, we celebrate the remarkable milestone of true bail reform in the state of New Jersey,” he said.

For the second state question, voters approved an amendment to the state Constitution to dedicate certain State revenues each year for environmental programs.

The Constitution currently dedicates four percent of the money collected from the Corporation Business Tax to help pay for some environmental programs. This amendment raises the amount from four percent to six percent beginning on July 1, 2019. The amendment also changes, beginning July 1, 2015, some of the programs funded by the current dedication. The new dedication will be used mostly to preserve and steward open space, farmland, historic sites, and flood-prone areas. Funds will also be used to improve water quality, remove and clean up underground tanks, and clean up polluted sites. The amendment also dedicates money received from leases and other uses of State open space lands to pay for open space, farmland, and historic preservation.

New Jersey Policy Perspective President Gordon MacInnes issued a statement after the measure passed tonight.

“We’re disappointed that voters were given only one bad option for preserving open space: either preserve it using a reckless budget gimmick or don’t preserve it at all. Given that stark choice, it’s not surprising voters approved the ballot question. But that doesn’t mean it was the right decision for New Jersey’s financial future,” he said. “Approval of this question means that, starting in a few years, New Jersey will be diverting about $1.5 billion every decade that would otherwise go to the state’s pressing needs. It would have been much more prudent to propose a specific tax or fee to pay for open space, or – as New Jersey voters have done the twelve times they’ve been asked – fund preservation by issuing bonds.

MacInnes accused policymakers and interest groups of opting for the politically painless, but financially irresponsible way out. “By doing so they have compounded New Jersey’s deteriorating financial condition and passed the bill onto future generations,” he said.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Right4_AReason

    Maybe people just really need poop bags for their dogs?

  • Simon9

    I have to agree with you, Jango. The politicians are just trying to lay another tax on us for revenue and social manipulation. With food prices getting disgustingly high, a new tax is not welcome and anyway I doubt it’ll make much difference since most people will continue to use bags but end up just paying more. Which is why I voted against it and am glad it didn’t pass.

  • Pat Palmer

    Isn’t the point to incentive people not to take the plastic bags? They end up outside in our living spaces, on the ground. And, they never decay.

  • Jango

    The price of the plastic bags is already built into the price of the goods. The politicians are just trying to add a new tax on us. If the plastic bags are so bad, we should just ban them, but new tax will just end up in the politicians general accounts to spend on needless, costly projects. Oh and another question – What about the plastic bottles?

  • Pat Palmer

    I’m disappointed about the plastic bag measure failing. What’s with that, people? I use reusable bags 99% of the time now, it’s little inconvenience. I also live 2 blocks from the P’ton shopping center; there are plenty of those plastic bags blowing around in the N Harrison St neighborhood. This measure should have passed.

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