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A November ballot initiative will give New Jersey voters a say in a dispute over how funds from major pollution settlements are used, following a line-item veto by Gov. Chris Christie (R) of legislative language meant to direct more money to environmental protection.
Christie’s action “maintains the state’s ability to divert all environmental settlements to the general fund, leaving municipalities and taxpayers strapped with the costs of remediation and restoration of hazardous sites,” Assemblyman Timothy Eustace (D), chairman of the State Assembly’s Environmental and Solid Waste Committee, said in a statement July 6.
Opponents of Christie’s use of the veto, having lost that round, are looking for a rematch in November at the ballot box.
The striking of the legislative language—one of several line items vetoed overnight by Christie during the July 4 holiday as part of a state budget deadlock resolution—killed an attempt by the state Legislature to secure half of the state’s environmental settlement money for legal costs and cleanups.
A spokesman for Christie didn’t respond July 6 to a request for comment on the line-item veto. But he said in a July 5 general budget statement that the governor had “never agreed to sign an unbalanced budget by preserving every additional spending request sneakily tucked into the budget and not paid for by revenue.”
The lawmakers’ bid to protect the funds, passed as a concurrent resolution ( ACR-127/SCR-39) in December, addressed a long-running controversy over decisions by Christie. The governor’s move addressed hazardous waste litigation that include cases concerning the Bayway refineries in Linden, N.J., which yielded a $225 million settlement with Exxon Mobil Corp. that remains under challenge, and pollution of the Passaic River, the subject of a $190 million settlement.
Eustace called Christie’s line-item veto “not surprising under this administration” but said it was a missed chance “to do what is right by the citizens of New Jersey, especially those living near affected areas.”
The legislation was meant to guarantee funds for the state’s Hazardous Discharge Site Cleanup Fund, but the veto “only protects the general fund and does not take into consideration any obstacles towns or taxpayers may be facing to clean up the state’s most toxic environmental sites,” he said.
“The purpose of these settlements is not to fill gaps in the budget,” he said. “The state’s ability to continue to take funds without limit is reckless.”
A ballot question in November will allow voters an opportunity “to stop the raiding and misuse of settlement funds in the future,” Eustace said.
Approval of the ballot question, he said, would amend the state constitution “to dedicate not just half but all monies received from environmental settlements and awards to repairing, restoring or permanently protecting the state’s natural resources.”
Actions by Christie to “raid” environmental settlements to balance the state budget “makes it even more important for the voters to make sure settlement monies are constitutionally dedicated in November,” Jeff Tittel, director of the state Sierra Club chapter said in a July 5 statement. “The clock is ticking until we can make sure this money is dedicated.”
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Text of the New Jersey legislative resolution is at http://src.bna.com/qxt.
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