WASHINGTON — Voters across the country on election day voted to increase their own taxes and spend $440 million to purchase and protect land in their back yards – even though in some cases they were voting for candidates pledging to decrease spending.
“Voters demonstrated very clearly that whether they vote red or blue for candidates, they’ve always been green for conservation,” said Alan Rowsome, an appropriations analyst for The Wilderness Society.
Republican pollster Lori Weigel agreed.
“Our polling nationally has clearly demonstrated that voters continue to value conservation and are willing to pay for it, even if it means increasing their own taxes,” said Weigel, a partner with Public Opinion Strategies. “The uptick in concern we have seen about government spending and taxes among the electorate does little to diminish their willingness to vote for specific, well thought out proposals that dedicate funding to benefit their state or community.”
Rowsome added that the logical next step for the country to take is for Congress and President Obama to fully fund one of America’s most important conservation initiatives: the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program that takes revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling to support the conservation of America's lands and waters. Obama signed a bill last weekend that increased annual funding to $300 million – which is only about one-third of the sum called for when the fund was created.
“American voters clearly said in this week’s elections that they want states to do more to protect land,” Rowsome said. “The federal government ought to match their enthusiasm by doing more at the national level to support programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund.”
Of the 25 measures on the ballot yesterday, 16 passed, for an approval rate of 64 percent. The largest was a statewide $400 million bond in New Jersey, while all the others were local elections.
"Yesterday's results were remarkable because despite the difficult economy we're all facing, voters said protecting open space is still very important to us," said Ernest Cook, director of TPL's conservation finance program, which helps local communities enact public funding measures. "At the same time, we are not surprised by the results because for 20 years, we've seen voters choose to spend money for open space," Cook said. "This has been true in all areas, whether among voters who are conservative, liberal or decline to state, and it has been true no matter whether the economy was in good shape or bad. The bottom line is that open space is important to voters."
In New Jersey, voters statewide passed the $400 million "Green Acres" bond by 52-48, continuing a trend of almost 50 years. In 11 previous statewide votes dating back to 1961, New Jersey voters had approved open space funding. The money has been used for a variety of projects, including land for recreation and conservation, preservation of farmland, and historic projects.
In another other significant vote Tuesday, voters in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, Ga., approved a $25 million package which includes $5 million for parks, recreation and trails. This comes on the heels of Cobb County voters overwhelming approval of two $40 million open space bonds in 2006 and 2008.
For more information: Past results of local conservation funding ballot initiatives are available here.