In my last post
, I discussed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signing major legislation providing $650 million aimed at improving water quality across the state, especially the badly polluted Barnegat Bay. Many took this legislation as Christie following through on one of his major campaign promises — the cleaning and restoration of Barnegat Bay — which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has labeled one of the most polluted coastal estuaries in the country.
The legislation Christie signed in early August provided $650 million in low-cost and no-cost loans for water quality and protection projects throughout New Jersey, and specifically set aside $16 million for 25 storm water basin projects affecting Barnegat Bay. Repairing and installing new storm drains would help prevent nutrients, specifically nitrogen, from washing into tributaries and then the Bay itself.
However, just last week, Christie vetoed a bill that environmentalists thought of as critical to the Barnegat clean-up process. The bill, 8-815, "would have assessed fees
on property owners in Ocean County to repair and retrofit stormwater basins as part of a plan to clean up Barnegat Bay," according to MaryAnn Spoto at the Newark Star Ledger. Spoto went on to add that many, "especially the Ocean County Freeholders, all of whom are Republicans, saw the bill as a tax for which they would have been blamed."
In his veto message, Christie wrote "while I fully share the sponsors' concerns about Barnegat Bay, now is not the time to increase the tax burden," and then went on to add, "I simply cannot support this imposition of the additional fees that would be required under this bill." Christie noted the $16 million in state funds made available for Bay basin projects earlier this month, but was quickly rebuked by environmentalists who insist "the state needs a stable source of financing because it will take an estimated $270 million to repair or retrofit all 2,700 basins in the watershed," according to Spoto.
New Jersey Democrats used the veto to argue that Christie is not truly committed to the bay clean-up. Assemblyman John Mckeon (D-Essex), who co-sponsored the bill with another Democrat, noted that "improving stormwater management would help us restore the beauty and health of the watershed, which is vital to our state's economy."
At a time where increased consumer spending is absolutely critical to the resurgence of our economy, it would make sense that yet another tax on regular citizens would be ill-advised. As of now, I would agree with Christie's plan to make improvements with existing funds. It would seem to be logical to spend the entire $16 million currently allotted, and evaluate its progress before committing any larger dollar amount toward cleanup.