By Jennifer De Shields
Governor Christie has been making massive state budget cuts in an attempt to cut spending and stabalize the state budget. Although it should be noted that Christie left $4.4 million dollars for the Highlands, he also cut about $6 million from the highlands budget. The Star Ledger reports:
“The budget also includes full funding of $4.4 million for compliance aid and planning aid to help municipalities bring their zoning in line with that of the regional master plan. On the other hand, Christie's budget seeks to eliminate some $6 million in additional Highlands aid, including $3.6 million in property tax stabilization aid to municipalities that can prove they lost ratables as a result of the 2004 Highlands law, and $2.2 million in watershed moratorium aid to municipalities with undevelopable watershed properties.”
The New Jersey Highlands is very important to the state. The Highlands region stretches through seven New Jersey counties, provides drinking water to 5 million New Jersey residents (producing 379 million gallons of drinking water daily), contains forests and wetlands, and provides recreation and eco-tourism for many people. One could wonder, “if the highlands are so important to New Jersey, why were millions of dollars of funding taken from it?”
This budget cut leaves the Highland’s future very unstable. This delicate piece of New Jersey land could be very valuable from a real estate point of view. The land’s natural beauty and prime positioning to New York City and Northern New Jersey makes it a very desirable site for development. Although the land is protected under the 2004 Highlands Act, if there’s a lot of money cut from the budget it may become harder to keep developers out.
This also is a blow to environmental organizations in the state. Christie’s Highlands cut may be a glimpse into what lies in the environmental future. If he cuts money from this important environmental effort, where else could he cut from? New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said in the same Star Ledger article:
"Governor Christie's budget, just like his executive orders, will dismantle many key environmental programs in New Jersey. Not only will his budget hurt the environment, it will cost us green jobs,''
Since Christie has come into power, he’s cut a lot of money from state budgets. Some say he doesn’t have a choice, the previous governor Jon Corzine didn’t spend his money wisely and it left us with a deficit that goes into the billions. Although it is understandable that we have to make cuts, it could also be argued that he should be cutting in different places. The educators in the state are scrambling to balance their budgets, raise tuitions, and sadly let go some of their faculty. Soon we’re going to have the environmentalists rushing to save what little they can. This couldn’t have come at worse time, this country is at an environmental crossroads. We’re attempting to create green jobs and switch to a somewhat carbon neutral lifestyle, but we’re not giving ourselves enough time and money to do it. With the highlands budget cut, I wonder what other environmentally important area Christie will cut next.