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TRENTON-The Democrats yesterday retained control of both the state Senate and Assembly, but lawmakers will apparently return to this capital city with a new fiscal message. Voters turned back two important ballot questions involving state expenditures.

The larger of the two questions would have authorized the state to borrow up to $450 million to be used as grants for stem cell research projects. Both Gov. Jon Corzine and Senate president Dick Codey (D-Essex) campaigned heavily in favor of the question, with the latter spending a reported $100,000 of his own campaign funds for radio ads.

But whether over fiscal or moral issues, voters sent the question down to defeat by a nine-point margin. The defeat comes less than two weeks after state and university officials broke ground for a new $150-million medical research tower housing the Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey in Downtown New Brunswick. Program funding will now apparently have to come exclusively from private sources.

“That is obviously disappointing,” Codey says, in a statement. “It is a loss for the state, and more important, it is a loss for mankind.”

The second defeated ballot measure would have allocated the full amount of last year’s one-cent state sales tax increase to property tax relief. Currently, half of that extra cent is set aside for tax relief in the form of rebates and other programs. Opponents of the measure, including Gov. Corzine, had argued prior to the vote that the measure would complicate the state’s long-term efforts to solve its budgetary problems.

But open space preservation is alive and well in the Garden State. While defeating these two measures, voters did approve, by a six-point margin, a third measure authorizing the state to borrow up to $200 million to buy land for recreational and conservation purposes. Targeted properties include farmland and flood-prone land along the Raritan, Passaic and Delaware rivers.

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