By Tom Johnson, NJSpotlight.com
Gov. Chris Christie does not like raising taxes, but diverting hundreds of millions of dollars from environmental programs is apparently among the tough choices the administration is willing to make to balance New Jersey’s budget.
The issue arose during the annual budget meeting of the state Department of Environmental Protection, as lawmakers questioned repeatedly the diversion of money targeted toward environmental needs to other purposes.
In the administration’s proposed fiscal year 2013 budget, the spending plan it has recommended to the Democratic-controlled legislature suggests diverting nearly $20 million in funds targeted to closing old abandoned garbage dumps, cleaning up hazardous waste sites, and preventing pollution from manufacturing sites, among other things.
Democratic legislators greeted the diversions skeptically, particularly the decision to use $6.8 million in money from a hazardous waste cleanup fund to pay for the replacement of trees destroyed during an expansion project along the New Jersey Turnpike.
DEP Commissioner Bob Martin told the panel that the state has trimmed the number of contaminated sites it is dealing with down to 15,000 from 20,000 when the administration took office. About 9,000 of those sites will fall into a new effort to speed up cleanups by having them overseen by licensed professional, he said.
“Why are we taking $6.8 million from hazardous waste when we have 9,000 sites?’’ asked Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-Bergen), the chairman of the panel. “If we have such a need for cleaning up the sites, wouldn’t there be other places to look for the funding?’’