TRENTON – School funding and affordable housing funds are among the top priority issues at least 17 members of the New Jersey Legislature will focus on in the coming weeks.
The New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus rolled out its budget priority list Monday and highlighted issues that it says “people don’t pay enough attention to,” particularly issues where the state’s minority population is being disproportionately hurt by public policy.
“We want to make it clear … that we’re going to be focusing and paying attention to what’s on that priority list,” said Sen. Ron Rice, (D-28), chairman of the caucus.
“Unfortunately, for the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus as a whole, it has not been easy working with the present administration,” he said. “It must be made clear, however, to the public at-large that the mission and commitment of the members of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus has not changed.”
Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, (D-15), highlighted one of the caucus’ key concerns in the coming weeks: affordable housing dollars.
“This is nothing more than a political grab to plug a hole in the budget,” she said, referring to the administration’s plan to sweep about $164 million in unspent affordable housing dollars at the municipal level.
The unused funds are not supposed to go to plug a hole in the budget, she said, explaining if the municipal governments didn’t use the funds then the state should take them and build affordable housing in those locations.
Rice and Coleman also criticized Christie on his record with education in the state, saying the Republican governor is wrong to expand state takeovers of public districts.
Coleman argued it’s “very clear that there is a strategic plan” to privatize as much of public education as possible. She said the caucus will show a unified front in opposing such measures.
Rice went as far as to say the takeover of local schools amounts to “taxation without representation” for communities who no longer have a voice when it comes to school boards.
The caucus will send a copy of its budget list to Christie, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver.
Rice said the caucus plans to hold hearings in areas where school districts are under state control.