Planet Princeton

New Jersey voters to consider two public questions Tuesday on library funding and pollution settlements

New Jersey voters will weigh in on two important ballot questions in the general election this Tuesday. The first public question authorizes the state to borrow $125 million for grants to public libraries for capital projects. The second question asks voters to consider a constitutional amendment that would force the state to use pollution settlements to rehabilitate the areas where the environmental damage occurred. Currently the legal settlement money can be put in the state’s general budget.

Public Question 1
Bonds for Public Libraries Measure

A “yes” vote supports authorizing the state to issue $125 million in bonds to provide grants to public libraries.

A “no” vote opposes authorizing the state to issue $125 million in bonds to provide grants to public libraries.

The state librarian, with approval of the president of Thomas Edison State University, would develop the eligibility criteria for libraries to receive grants. Grants would cover 50 percent of the cost of projects. The other 50 percent would be provided by a library’s local government. Private donors would be allowed to contribute toward the 50 percent provided by a local government.

Text of Measure

Do you approve the “New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act”? This bond act authorizes the State to issue bonds in the aggregate principal amount of $125 million. The proceeds of the bonds will be used to provide grants to public libraries. The grants will be used to build, equip, and expand public libraries to increase capacity and serve the public.

 Interpretive Statement

Approval of this bond act will allow the State to sell $125 million in State general obligation bonds. Proceeds from the bonds will be used to provide grants to construct, expand, and equip public libraries. Municipalities or counties that fund public libraries will match the grant amount. The municipality or county may solicit private funding to support its match. The State Librarian, in consultation with the President of Thomas Edison State University, will set eligibility criteria for the grants.

Public Question 2
The Revenue from Environmental Damage Lawsuits Dedicated to Environmental Projects Amendment

A “yes” vote supports allocating state revenue from legal settlements related to natural resource damages in cases of environmental contamination toward restoring and protecting natural resources and paying the costs of pursuing the settlements.

A “no” vote opposes this amendment to allocate state revenue from legal settlements related to natural resource damages in cases of environmental contamination toward environmental projects and paying the costs of pursuing the settlements.

Question 2 would create a lockbox for state revenue from legal settlements and awards related to natural resource damages in cases of environmental contamination. Revenue in the lockbox would be used to restore or replace damaged or lost natural resources, protect natural resources, and pay the legal costs of pursuing settlements and rewards. The state would be required to prioritize the use of revenue in the fund for restoring the immediate area related to the settlement or case. If no project is deemed reasonable in the immediate area, then the revenue would be spent in the same water region. Up to 10 percent of the revenue in the fund would be authorized to be spent on state agencies related to the amendment, such as the Department of Environmental Protection.

The amendment was proposed in response to disagreements between Gov. Chris Christie and the New Jersey Legislature on how to spend revenue from large pollution settlements involving pollution in the Passaic River and Exxon Mobil. Christie’s budgets planned to spend about $103 million of the $580 million received from the multiple cases on environmental restoration. While the case involving Exxon Mobil is being appealed, the cases involving the Passaic River brought in $355 million, of which $288 million was used to balance the state budget.

Text of Measure

Do you approve amending the Constitution to dedicate all moneys collected by the State relating to natural resource damages in cases of contamination of the environment? The moneys would have to be used to repair, restore, replace, or preserve the State’s natural resources. The moneys may also be used to pay legal or other costs incurred by the State in pursuing its claims.

Interpretive Statement

This amendment would dedicate moneys collected by the State relating to natural resource damages through settlements or awards for legal claims based on environmental contamination. These moneys would be dedicated to repair, replace, or restore damaged natural resources, or to preserve the State’s natural resources. The moneys would be spent in an area as close as possible to the geographical area in which the damage occurred. The moneys could also be used to pay for the State’s legal or other costs in pursuing the claims. Currently, these moneys may be used for any State purpose.

The measure would add a Paragraph 9 to Section 2 of Article VIII of the New Jersey Constitution. The following text would be added:

9. There shall be credited annually to a special account in the General Fund an amount equivalent to the revenue annually derived from all settlements and judicial and administrative awards relating to natural resource damages collected by the State in connection with claims based on environmental contamination.

The amount annually credited pursuant to this paragraph shall be dedicated, and shall be appropriated from time to time by the Legislature, for paying for costs incurred by the State to repair, restore, or replace damaged or lost natural resources of the State, or permanently protect the natural resources of the State, or for paying the legal or other costs incurred by the State to pursue settlements and judicial and administrative awards relating to natural resource damages. The first priority for the use of any moneys by the State to repair, restore, or replace damaged or lost natural resources of the State, or permanently protect the natural resources of the State, pursuant to this paragraph shall be in the immediate area in which the damage to the natural resources occurred in connection with the claim for which the moneys were recovered. If no reasonable project is available to satisfy the first priority for the use of the moneys, or there are moneys available after satisfying the first priority for their use, the second priority for the use of any moneys by the State to repair, restore, or replace damaged or lost natural resources of the State, or permanently protect the natural resources of the State, pursuant to this paragraph shall be in the same water region in which the damage to the natural resources occurred in connection with the claim for which the moneys were recovered. If no reasonable project is available to satisfy the first or second priority for the use of the moneys, or there are moneys available after satisfying the first or second priority for their use, the moneys may be used by the State to repair, restore, or replace damaged or lost natural resources of the State, or permanently protect the natural resources of the State, pursuant to this paragraph without geographic constraints. Up to 10 percent of the moneys appropriated pursuant to this paragraph may be expended for administrative costs of the State or its departments, agencies, or authorities for the purposes authorized in this paragraph.

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.

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