NJ Budget Diversions Drive Some Green Businesses into the Red

Friday, August 15, 2014

Since taking office, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has diverted more than $1 billion in environmental funds to the state's general fund.

Most of that comes from the state's Clean Energy Fund which gets its money from the Societal Benefits Charge on residents' gas and electric bills. The fund is supposed to support energy efficiency projects, but more than $900 million has been used to pay for things like keeping the lights on at state buildings and paying utility bills at NJ Transit, or the money has simply flowed into the general fund. 

Other environmental funds have also been diverted. This year, the budget included new language that allows for a portion of money from future environmental settlements to go to the general fund as well.

Doug O'Malley, president of the advocacy group Environment New Jersey, says all those diversions mean fewer green jobs and more pollution in the state.

"The governor’s philosophy on environmental funding is take as much as you can as quickly as you can and hope no one’s asked questions," he said.

But Larry Ragonese, a spokesperson for the state's Department of Environmental Protection, says Christie is committed to environmental causes. In an email, he said the state spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year on projects ranging from Sandy recovery to watershed restoration to cleanups of contaminated sites. Still, he said money is tight as the state continues to recover from the recession, and raising taxes, which are already high, isn’t the solution. For now the state is trying to be both "effective" and "efficient."  

Meanwhile, Brigid Callahan Harrison, a professor of Political Science and Law at Montclair State University, says that what's happening in New Jersey is part of a broader trend. Across the river in New York, Governor Cuomo plans to borrow more than $250 million dollars from the state’s clean water fund to help pay for the new Tappan Zee Bridge.

"Governors, not just in the state of New Jersey, but across the country, are looking for temporary solutions to long-term problems. And they’re doing this by essentially moving money around," she said. "What governors are doing is they’re attempting to avoid politically unpopular decisions like raising state income and sales taxes by using money that has been dedicated for other purposes."


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Comments [5]

Constantine from Mystic CT

This is a great piece on the importance of pumpout programs for our coastal waters. It is a shame the NJ does not understand the importance of this program and the overall improvement on water quality and economic stimulation programs like this provide

Aug. 19 2014 05:14 PM
bill wolfe from bordentown, nj

Jessica - FYI, I wrote about this diversion as it was happening - and have continued since.

Here is a piece over 4 years ago, see:

Follow my blog for tons of for scoops!

Aug. 19 2014 02:02 PM
Bill Wolfe from bordentown, nj

Eliot - YOu have bad information.

The UST fund you refer to was not created by Gov. Whitman.

Just the opposite.

It was created by voter approval of a constitutional amendment that dedicated 4% of corporate business tax revenues to specific environmental programs, including clean water and UST.

In fact, the ballot initiative was a response to Governor's FLorio and Whitman's diversions of over $500 million of environmental funds.

I now, I crafted the strategy and was directly involved in the legislative efforts.

Aug. 19 2014 01:56 PM
Bill Wolfe from Bordentown, NJ

Perhaps if media covered the diversions as they occurred in each budget cycle and had environmental groups aggressively opposed them, then perhaps enough public pressure would have inspired Democrats in the NJ Legislature not to rubber stamp them.

Worse, now even the "Keep It Green" coalition of conservation and environmental groups are playing the short sighted rob peter to pay paul diversion game - the proposed open pace ballot question would divert money currently dedicated by the VOTERS via a prior CONSTITUTIONAL amendment to environmental programs - clean water and toxic site cleanup - to open space.

There is a total lack of vision and leadership among those KIG groups.

Please cover this angle of the open space funding question, because no other media outlet is.


Aug. 19 2014 01:52 PM

I wanted to add something to your reporting of environmental funds being moved into the general fund in NJ. I am going through a residential oil tank remediation mandated by the NJDEP and it's quite stringent laws. We have 82% insurance coverage for this and are responsible for the remaining 18%. There was a multi million dollar NJ fund created under Gov Whitman to reimburse homeowners for the uninsured portion of the cleanup, funds of which were mysteriously moved in 2011 leaving homeowners like myself holding the bag for tens of thousands of dollars in cleanup costs. There is no guarantee the money will ever be reimbursed or when, and the fiscal state of NJ does not bode well for some 1700 homeowners statewide who share this fate. Our liability (18% share) is approximately $80,000 and the job at $400,000+ is not over yet. It has been and continues to be a true nightmare for myself (age 69) and my wife. My golden years and retirement funds going to clean up my postage stamp lot in Teaneck NJ. Thanks for your attention to this issue, would love to discuss this fairly complex and convuluted story with anyone interested. It is a scandal, every homeowners worse nightmare.

Aug. 15 2014 01:43 PM

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