New Jersey voters in November will weigh in on $400 million of general obligation borrowing for open-space initiatives as Gov. Jon Corzine yesterday signed into law a bill putting the bond question on the ballot.

The additional borrowing would support the Garden State Preservation Trust in fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2011. The GSPT buys land to preserve parks, forests, farmland, and historical sites throughout New Jersey, one of the most densely populated states in the U.S.

"New Jerseyans have a long and distinguished history as good stewards of the environment, and this gives our citizens the opportunity to preserve our open spaces, safeguard our water supply, and curb the proliferation of urban sprawl," Corzine said in a press release. In June, the Legislature decreased the bond bill to $400 million from $600 million in hopes that a smaller amount would help garner support at the polls. New Jersey has roughly $32 billion of outstanding debt, with debt-service costs taking up about 10% of the state's operating budget.

Open-space preservation tends to be a popular initiative in the Garden State. Voters in 2007 approved by 54% to 46% $200 million of bonding to support the trust in fiscal 2009. Prior to that, 66% of voters in 1998 approved a 30-year bonding program backed by $98 million of annual sales tax revenue to maintain the trust for 10 years.

Proponents of saving natural land say the trust needs another dedicated funding source, since voters may experience "ballot fatigue" if presented with open-space borrowing plans every other year.

Corzine, a Democrat, is up for re-election this November. He faces GOP candidate Chris Christie, who is leading in polls. The New Jersey Sierra Club Monday announced its endorsement of independent gubernatorial candidate Chris Daggett, citing its belief that Daggett will most effectively support environmental needs.

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