Governor Christie’s unbalanced priorities

Published on Monday, June 3, 2013

In the fantasyland that is Gov. Chris Christie’s latest spate of commercials, spending is down, taxes are cut, and the state’s public schools are awash in funding.

But behind the scenes, it’s a different story.

At every turn—often in ways that go unnoticed or appear clean of the governor’s fingerprints—taxes are up and money is being redistributed from the poor and middle class to the wealthier residents of the state.

Net property taxes are up. Way up.

The governor touts his “real property tax cap” but ignores the impact of his drastic reductions in property tax rebates. The true effect? Net property taxes rose 18.6 percent in Christie’s first three years in office. By comparison, in Gov. Corzine’s last three years in office, net property taxes rose 6 percent.

Meanwhile, Christie left intact a property tax credit that favors wealthier residents of the state.

June 2013 Reporter, Christie's Unbalanced Priorities editorialAccording to an NJ Spotlight (njspotlight.com) analysis of total property tax bills coupled with rebate reductions, a Mendham Township household with an annual income of over $550,000, living in a home typical for that income level and community, pays a net 2 percent of that household income in property taxes when their tax bill and state and federal tax property tax credits are factored in.

A Mount Holly family living in a home and within an income typical for that community pays a net 5.8 percent of household income in property taxes. And a Newark family pays 13.5 percent of household income in net property taxes.

So while the governor may have put money in residents’ penny jars by “slowing property tax growth,” he’s quietly raided their checking accounts by slashing their property tax rebates.

State aid to schools. Far from “adequate.”

In December, Christie and Commissioner of Education Chris Cerf issued the first Educational Adequacy Report. This is a report that is required every three years under the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA). It examines whether school funding is “adequate” to meet students’ needs.

In the report, the Department of Education proposed major adjustments. The Legislature objected, but the governor’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2014 implemented them anyway.

Christie’s budget changes attendance calculations to cut funding

State aid calculations under SFRA begin with enrollment figures based on a three-year enrollment history. Christie’s budget incorporates a new “average daily attendance” calculation, reducing aid for districts that haven’t maintained a three-year average daily attendance rate of 96 percent.

So a relatively poor district of 4,641 enrolled students with a three-year rate of 93.6 percent will be treated as if it had 114 fewer students. That adds up to an $890,000 cut in state aid for that district.

Christie’s budget changes “weights” for at-risk and English language learners to cut funding

SFRA recognizes that schools need extra resources to educate students whose first language is not English, whose families live in poverty, or both. Basic per pupil funding is multiplied by defined “weights” to help provide these additional resources.

Christie’s budget proposal arbitrarily lowers these weights. On average, these reductions will cut funding to educate these students by more than $330 per pupil. In the neediest districts, the average reduction exceeds $990 per pupil.

Christie’s budget reduces the amount of aid by assessing a new “tax” on that aid for state-funded school construction

An Education Law Center (edlawcenter.org) analysis reveals that Christie’s budget proposal contains a special assessment on school districts that wipes out the state aid increases touted by Christie. The proposed assessment—to be subtracted from state aid—equals 15 percent of a district’s share of principal and interest payments for state-issued school construction bonds.

The cuts in anticipated aid reach as high as $1 million for some districts. In 294 districts, the assessment is higher than the increase in promised aid. For 48 districts, the assessment is more than twice the size of their state school aid increase. For 215 districts, the assessment is imposed on budgets that already had no increase in state school aid in FY14.

So much for “the most education funding ever.”

Christie’s unbalanced priorities are harming the most vulnerable residents and raising taxes on the middle class. Isn’t it time to restore some balance?

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