Spearheaded by state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37), New Jersey lawmakers are voicing serious concerns over a “Liberty State Park loophole” in the three-month budget extension that would allow private development at state parks.
Yesterday, the state legislature approved a three-month budget extension allocating $7,745,997,000 in state funds and $4,586,243,000 in federal funds.
However, the 111-page bill, sponsored by Assembly members Eliana Pintor Marin (D-29) and John Burzichelli (D-8) and state Senators Paul Sarlo (D-36) and Sandra Cunningham,(D-31), also opens up the doors for private development at state parks.
“ … On or before September 1, 2020, the Department of Environmental Protection shall issue a solicitation to engage the private for-profit and non-profit sector in reducing maintenance and capital investment backlog and environmental remediation at state parks in order to facilitate enhanced cultural, recreational and local economic opportunities for New Jersey residents through appropriate means including leaseholds,” an excerpt says.
Weinberg, who voted for the budget extension, panned the idea of private development at LSP, calling for Murphy to take legislative action immediately.
“Advocates have fought for years to keep Liberty State Park free from private development and open to all,” she said in a statement.
“They have worked far too hard to have their efforts thwarted by a few lines buried in an emergency, never-before-done budget at the crest of a global pandemic. This was a sneaky, backdoor way to attempt to change important public policy and I urge the Governor to line time veto the language before he signs the bill.”
She also called the language “a shameful sleight of hand by a couple of paid lobbyists” during a pandemic.
Her sentiment was echoed by the representatives of the 33rd Legislative District, state Senator Brian Stack, Assemblyman Raj Mukherji and Annette Chaparro.
“The irony of sneaking in language compelling the privatization of our state parks in a budget continuance amidst a global pandemic is that so many New Jerseyans have found relief in nature, including Liberty State Park and her sister state parks, during the pandemic,” the trio of legislators, who also voted for the budget appropriations, said.
“We call on the governor to line-item veto this ill-advised language. Now, more than ever, we must fight to ensure that Liberty State Park remains a free, open, urban green oasis protected from commercialization and privatization. That is why we have sponsored the Liberty State Park Protection Act and call for its immediate passage.”
In December, Billionaire Reebok founder Paul Fireman introduced a plan to expand the Liberty National golf course into the Caven Point area of LSP.
Around the same time, the LSPPA was moving through the legislature, though it died during lame duck session in January.
The Jersey City Council, which passed a resolution supporting the LSPPA last year, has had a nearly identical agenda item up for the past two meetings, but it has been pulled each time.
Ward E Councilman James Solomon, the sponsor of the resolution, called out Fireman by name and called this tactic “the sleaziest one yet.”
“The latest attempt to bulldoze parkland for the world’s most exclusive golf course may be the sleaziest one yet. It’s time to defeat Paul Fireman once and for all by passing the Liberty State Park Protection Act,” he said.
Murphy did not line item veto the state park language out of the budget appropriations that he approved and a spokeswoman for his office, Alexander Altman, said that they will work together with the Department of Environmental Protection to ensure the best outcome statewide.
“The governor’s office and Department of Environmental Protection will work together to evaluate all options and ensure that New Jersey’s parks remain an accessible resource for residents.”
Additionally, Friends of Liberty State Park President Sam Pesin, a longtime advocate of the park, hit Murphy over signing the bill.
“The governor collaborated with the devious subversion of Democracy with the Fireman privatization land grab language which had no public notification or public discussion,” he exclaimed.
“The governor showed his true social justice colors by signing the bill, which sells out our sacred and priceless LSP a mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual public health resource.”
Fireman could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday.