Gov. Jim Florio's proposed $325 million environmental bond issue appears unlikely to make it to New Jersey's November ballot, as the state Senate is not scheduled to vote on the matter in time to beat a looming deadline.
For voters to have a chance to decide the issue in November, legislation creating the ballot question must be approved by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Florio by Aug. 27, according to Diane Russell, a special assistant to the governor.
But prospects for action in the Senate appear dim because no sessions are scheduled before the end of the month.
The Assembly could vote on the matter on Aug. 19 or 22, when sessions have been tentatively scheduled. The measure has already been voted favorably out of the Assembly Natural Resources and Appropriations committees.
Ms. Russell said despite the Senate's inaction, the governor "remains hopeful" that a session will be called on time to take up the environmental bond issue.
"A lot of groups support this," she added, including the Environmental Federation and the Alliance for Action.
Gov. Florio reiterated his support for the idea during a televised speech last week in which he called on the Legislature to act.
But state Senator Majority Leader Daniel Dalton, D-Gloucester, said earlier this month that the Senate will not vote on the measure in time to get it on the ballot.
Sen. Dalton reportedly said he agrees with the bill's goal of maintaining clean water supplies, but does not feel the state can afford any new bond initiatives because of the national recession and an extremely tight state budget.
Gov. Florio, however, believes the investments are especially vital during periods of economic decline.
"These are critical investments," Ms. Russell said. "We can't afford not to make them."
The governor's aide sait it is precisely because of the downturn that land purchases associated with the plan would be relatively cheap, as would bids for construction work stemming from the bond issue. And despite a recent downgrade of the state's general obligation rating by Standard * Poor's Corp., New Jersey is still able to issue bonds at one of the lowest yields in the nation, Ms. Russell said.
Standard & Poor's last month dropped the state's rating to AA-plus from AAA. Moody's Investors Service has maintained its Aaa assessment.
About $150 million of the bond issue would go toward low-interest loans to local governments for wastewater treatment programs. Another $100 million is earmarked for land acquisition and park rehabilitation. The rest would go toward various smaller environmental initiatives.
A separate attempt to put a $135 million housing bond issue on the November ballot also appears to be foundering in the Legislature. The measure, which was defeated by voters last year amid strong anti-tax sentiment, was revived earlier this year but is now stuck in the Senate Revenue, Finance and Appropriations Committee, where action is not expected to come in time to meet the Aug. 27 deadline.