NJ Politics Digest: School Funding Plan (and a Threat) Introduced Into Budget Fight

Senate President Steve Sweeney said he's willing to shut down the state government to deal with the New Jersey's school funding issues.

Steve Sweeney.
Steve Sweeney. Kevin B. Sanders for Observer

Senate President Steve Sweeney has made no secret of his desire to fix what he sees as problems in the state’s school funding system, and on Thursday, he said he’s willing to shut down the state government to get it done.

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The threat, as well as some details of the legislation, could be bargaining chips in an upcoming budget showdown with Gov. Phil Murphy, who wants to institute several new tax hikes that Sweeney and his Democratic allies in the legislature oppose.

Sweeney on Thursday introduced his measure, which would gradually reduce aid to districts he considers overfunded, while shifting the money to districts that are shortchanged from what they should be receiving under state funding formulas, according to NJ.com.

Sweeney said the plan is needed because the state has refused to cut aid from some districts after conditions changed and the funding formula indicated they no longer needed it. Jersey City, for example, receives nearly $175 million more than the state formula calls for, according to the NJ.com report.

Meanwhile, other districts with growing populations find themselves strapped for cash, with local taxpayers having to shoulder more of the burden.

The New Jersey Education Association, the politically powerful teachers union that has feuded with Sweeney, opposes reducing money sent to overfunded districts, according to NJ.com.

Sweeney says his bill’s extended timeline gives schools that have seen enrollment shrink time to reduce staff through attrition, according to POLITICO. Sweeney’s bill would ensure every district receives at least 58 percent of the funding called for under the state formula, according to POLITICO. In some districts, state funding is currently only 20 or 45 percent, according to the site’s report.

A spokesman for Gov. Phil Murphy said the governor wants to fix inequities in school funding but also made a pitch for Murphy’s tax hikes—which he said were needed to correct the problems, POLITICO reported.

Murphy is proposing more than $1.5 billion in new taxes, which include a millionaires tax and hiking the state sales tax. Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin have both said they oppose hiking taxes on residents who already bear one of the highest tax burdens in the nation. Sweeney contends a millionaires tax will only exacerbate the flight of wealthy people from the state.

Murphy has said he and the Democratic legislature are making progress on their budget differences. Sweeney, on the other hand, is not so optimistic.

“Honestly, we’re not in the sixth inning. This is my ninth budget, so I know more than anyone right now, and we’re not in the sixth inning. We need to be there, and we need to talk more,” Sweeney said, according to the New Jersey Globe.

Quote of the Day: “If I don’t get school funding fixed, I shut government down last year because of it, I’m willing to do it again.” — Senate President Steve Sweeney

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NJ Politics Digest: School Funding Plan (and a Threat) Introduced Into Budget Fight