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Greenwald’s Assembly Budget Committee: Much to do About Nothing!

April 28, 2010

Lou Greenwald Photo Credit: T. Kurdzuk/Star-Ledger

The Assembly Budget hearings seem to be all the talk in Trenton.  Unfortunately,  this may be true for all the wrong reasons.  Instead of having a meaningful dialogue that explores ways to reduce the tax burden on New Jersey’s middle class, Assembly Budget Chair Lou Greenwald turned his committee hearings into a meaningless media spectacle. 

Below is are the highlights (or lowlights) of Bret Schundler’s  testimony before Greenwald’s committee: 

It’s all about education…or is it?

While New Jersey faces a historic budget deficit and its residents have demonstrated unprecedented interest in their ever-rising property taxes that fund a majority of the state’s public schools, you would think there would be plenty of educational issues to discuss in a five-hour meeting between Education Commissioner Bret Schundler and the Assembly Budget Committee.

You would expect the committee to focus on ways to preserve, or even improve, educational opportunities for New Jersey children and save teachers’ jobs, as New Jersey deals with a $10.7 billion budget deficit further complicated by then-Governor Corzine’s short-sighted decision last year to spend all of New Jersey’s federal stimulus funds for education in one year.

But instead of examining how the Department of Education is focused on things that actually correlate with improved learning, such as significant teacher training, while it shuns things that don’t, such as the notion that more money equals more achievement, Democratic legislators discussed:

  • Policies considered but rejected by the Jersey City Council 15 years ago
  • Medicaid funding
  • Pensions
  • Schundler’s gubernatorial platforms in 2001 and 2005
  • Imposing new taxes on overtaxed New Jerseyans as a way to continue the spending by New Jersey government that is breaking our state.

One of the few substantive discussions (led by Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-Morris and Passaic) revealed that despite New Jersey’s high per-pupil spending (roughly $19,000 according to Schundler), 40 percent of our eighth graders cannot read proficiently. That disputes the notion that more dollars equals more success. The conversation elicited praise from Assemblyman Albert Coutinho, D-Essex, who then chose to follow it up with questions about getting more school funding.

Some of the issues raised by Republican members of the committee:

  • New Jersey will apply for the second round of Race to the Top funds this summer. It lost the opportunity to receive $400 million in grants last year because of union objection to the concept of objective analysis of student achievement.
  • This year is difficult for school districts throughout the state, but a legislative package that would implement Governor Christie’s vision to fix New Jersey government should be unveiled in a few weeks. It includes many concepts long supported by Assembly Republicans such as capping property taxes and government spending, creating a fairer system for contract negotiations and having more reasonable benefits for public employees.
  • The proposed budget actually increases state funding of schools by $238 million, despite confused claims to the contrary. But even with this increase, schools are receiving less aid because the one-shot, $1 billion infusion of federal stimulus funds is no longer available after then-Governor Corzine spent it all in one year instead of dealing with economic realities and getting districts to reduce their spending.
  • Teachers still can avert layoffs if they accept a one-year wage freeze and contribute 1.5 percent of their salary toward health benefits. Jobs for roughly 10,000 classroom teachers could be spared by this modest sacrifice.

Huh?

  • “OLS is on our side for a day,” Assembly Republican Budget Officer Joe Malone after the Democrats’ microphones malfunctioned while the Republicans’ were operational.
  • Were they asleep during the last 2 1/2 years? Assembly Budget Chairman Lou Greenwald acknowledged that they were not aware of the extent of New Jersey’s economic woes when they and former Governor Corzine allowed the misnamed millionaires income tax surcharge to expire. They now want Governor Christie to increase income taxes – something he has repeatedly promised overtaxed New Jersey that he would not do.
  • “You promised me this wasn’t going to be discussed, but you brought it up the last two meetings,” Malone to Greenwald on his incessant campaigning to allow towns to assess local income and sales taxes. Schundler said this would widen the disparity between wealthy and poor communities.
  • East vs. West: During the Department of Transportation hearing Greenwald wondered whether construction on Route 295 near Bordentown would hurt shore tourism this summer.
  • “NJN is closing, you know?” Greenwald asked a cameraman whose cell phone ringing disturbed proceedings.

Rally
New Jersey 101.5 FM’s Jersey Guys, Casey and Rossi, will lead a rally in support of teachers and school choice from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday outside the Statehouse Annex.

Following the broadcast, filmmaker Bob Bowdon and Excellent Education for Everyone, will host a screening of The Cartel at the New Jersey State Museum Auditorium.

Special thank you to the Assembly Republican Office for their assistance with this post.
 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 30, 2010 5:16 pm

    Greenwald’s been the Assembly budget honcho for years and had to know the iceberg was dead ahead. But he didn’t even try to avoid it and now the ship is taking on water.
    There’s no excuse.

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