A Senate environment panel will hear testimony this week on New Jersey's water supply, including contamination in Dover Township, and a proposed water tax.
The Senate Environment Committee is slated to convene a special hearing Thursday.
"The primary purpose is to draw attention to water supply concerns we have in the state," said Sen. Robert Smith, D-Middlesex, chairman of the Senate Environment Committee. "I'm trying to get that on the radar screen of New Jersey citizens."
He said the state has had five droughts in 13 years but has done little to improve water supplies.
"This is part of the educational process, I hope, to get support for the water tax," Smith said.
The tax has been proposed a number of times over the years but never approved. It now has support from Gov. Corzine.
The levy would charge public water consumers 4 cents per 1,000 gallons of water.
Corzine's administration estimates the tax will cost the average New Jersey household no more than $4 per year, with money earned by the tax enabling the state to improve infrastructure and interconnections to help the state better handle droughts. The tax would raise an estimated $12 million per year.
The tax has been supported by environmentalists and water companies but opposed by businesses and industries that use large amounts of water. The New Jersey Business & Industry Association has described the proposal as a $5 million per year tax on New Jersey industries.
"The tax is not one of the largest of the proposed taxes, but they do add up and they do have a negative impact on businesses," said David Brogan, an association vice president.
But Smith said the increased cost would be worth it.
"You can't afford not to do it," Smith said.
Smith's committee will also hear testimony on water contamination concerns in Dover Township. In February, United Water Toms River disclosed that it hadn't notified the state about elevated radiation levels found during 2005 testing. Smith said lawmakers are considering requiring water companies to quickly notify residents when radiation levels exceed standards.
Water supply has been a concern in Dover Township for years. The township's drinking wells, underneath two Superfund sites and municipal landfill, were polluted with toxic chemicals and have been cited as a possible cause of 90 childhood cancer cases since 1979.
This week, legislators also will delve into department spending. The Assembly Budget Committee has been holding hearings for weeks on state spending but will begin its department-by-department review of Corzine's $31 billion budget proposal today when it considers spending plans for three departments.
Corzine's budget proposed $1.9 billion in tax increases and $2.5 billion in spending cuts as a way to alleviate the state's $4.5 billion deficit.
Source Asbury Park Press