7-15-11 Education Issues in the News

Press of Atlantic City - Public workers pension reform will save local governments and school boards millions of dollars each yearPublic workers pension reform will save local governments and school boards millions of dollars each year

By JOHN FROONJIAN Statehouse Bureau ChiefpressofAtlanticCity.com | Posted: Friday, July 15, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 12:38 am, Fri Jul 15, 2011.

A new law requiring public workers to contribute more to their pensions will save area local governments and school boards more than $4 million in the first year, numbers released Thursday by the Governor’s Office show.

Statewide, the savings will total $43 million in fiscal 2012 and will reach a projected $43 billion over 30 years, a statement from the governor said.

Current year savings range locally from $200,000 in Atlantic City to $20 at the Corbin City Board of Education. The reduction in required contributions to state pension funds appeared to amount to a uniform 5 percent, Press of Atlantic City analysis of the data showed.

Agencies getting the biggest savings in dollar amounts included area county governments, municipal governments in Atlantic City, Vineland and Ocean City and school districts in Vineland, Egg Harbor Township and Millville.

The release of specific contribution savings for every local agency in the state caught officials by surprise.

“This is the first I’m hearing about it,” said Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano. “But if $42,000 in savings is coming to the city of Wildwood, that’s wonderful.”

The law was sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, and signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie on June 28.

“Because we prioritized long-term fiscal stability and acted to fix these broken systems, taxpayers and local governments are now seeing immediate savings this year,” Christie said in a written statement.

“Municipalities, counties, school districts and all local governments will now have these savings to fund critical services, keep teachers in the classroom, and provide property tax relief,”the governor said.

The law creating the savings generated heated opposition from public employee unions, whose members rallied by the thousands in Trenton against the proposal last month. The law requires greater contributions from workers to both pensions and health insurance costs.

Sweeney took heat from some Democrats and the unions for pushing the changes. Thursday’s announced contribution savings, which reflect only reduced pension payments, reflect the up side for taxpayers. Possible savings on health insurance contributions were not released.

“I am gratified that we were able to push these reforms through,” Sweeney said in a statement. “Not only were we able to save the pensions of 800,000 people, but we were also able to provide a much needed break for New Jersey’s taxpayers.”

Hamilton Township Mayor Amy Gatto was told by a reporter that the town’s pension contributions would be reduced by $26,309. She said she was glad for any help in controlling costs, especially after municipal spending increases have been capped by the state at 2 percent a year.

“Any savings we can achieve in any place in our budget is never taken lightly,” she said. “This is certainly going to help.”

She said she hopes state government will pursue more reforms to ease costs for local government.

The Egg Harbor Township school district will realize $70,529 in cost reductions this year, state figures say. But Superintendent Scott McCartney said he had no time to focus now on what effect that might have on the budget.

Officials announced the pension savings only two days after releasing increased state aid figures for schools statewide. McCartney said his district has to decide how it will use an additional $1.1 million in aid by a Tuesday deadline. He noted that budgets, hiring, and programs have all been set already.

“To have to plan everything out by Tuesday, it’s frustrating. To do long-term and short-term planning — it’s farcical,” he said.

Pension savings, he added, “are not on my radar at this point.”

In Wildwood, officials are grappling with a tight budget that prompted five city layoffs in June. Troiano was delighted to hear the city would save $41,793 in pension contributions.

“We need the money. That could keep another person employed and offset some of our expenses,” he said.

The mayor said despite a high ratable base, the costs of maintaining free beaches and public safety for tourists are high.

Contact John Froonjian:




Star Ledger - N.J. appeals court sides with Ocean Twp. against Loch Arbour in school funding dispute

Published: Thursday, July 14, 2011, 7:49 PM Updated: Thursday, July 14, 2011, 7:49 PM

By MaryAnn Spoto/The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger

MONMOUTH COUNTY— A state appeals court today said the tiny town of Loch Arbour’s hefty bill to educate its students in nearby Ocean Township does not violate the state’s constitution.

The decision upholds a decision last year by Superior Court Judge Thomas Cavanagh who said Loch Arbour, like all other municipalities in New Jersey, had to pay its share of school funding based on property values — even if that meant a 447 percent increase in school taxes.

The litigation brought by Loch Arbour, the state’s only incorporated village, centered on a legislative repeal of a measure that capped the town’s school funding contribution to Ocean Township at $300,000 annually. The bill was repealed along with three others when the state enacted the new school funding formula in 2008. The new formula based a town’s contribution on property values rather than a complex formula.

"The repeal mandated that all municipalities — including the one incorporated village — contribute to the tax levy in an 'equitable and predictable way,'" the court wrote. "That it stripped Loch Arbour of its privilege to a $300,000 on a cap on school taxes is of no moment in analyzing the constitutional argument."

Loch Arbour, a small oceanfront community north of Asbury Park, had entered into an education agreement with Ocean Township, a larger and less affluent neighbor, because it traditionally has had only a few dozen children attending public schools. It contended it should pay into the school district an amount proportionate to the low number of students it sends to Ocean Township.

But Ocean Township argued — and the court agreed — the new funding formula meant Loch Arbour had to pay up, regardless of the effect on residents’ property taxes. Where Loch Arbour used to pay no more than $300,000 toward the funding, its contribution is now nearly $1.9 million.

Loch Arbour Trustee Paul Williams, whose property tax bill went from nearly $18,000 in 2009 to nearly $28,000 this year because of the additional tax, said he is not pleased with the decision but sees the only remedy coming from the Legislature or Gov. Chris Christie. "`I’m very, very, very disappointed. I’m sure the people are disappointed and distraught to say the least with the Appellate Division’s decision," he said.

Martin Arbus, an attorney for Ocean Township, said the decision validates the municipality’s arguments.


Star Ledger - Democratic, Republican legislators share views on NJ budget

Published: Friday, July 15, 2011, 6:35 AM Updated: Friday, July 15, 2011, 8:56 AM

By Star-Ledger Editorial BoardThe Star-Ledger

Gov. Chris Christie's line-item veto of New Jersey's state budget drew ire and created drama over the past few days, as Democratic state legislators sought in vain to override the cuts.

Today NJVoices plays host to two New Jersey legislators—Democratic Senator President Stephen Sweeney and Republican Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon—who offer their perspectives on the budget, the cuts and the events of the past two weeks.

Check out their columns, and share your thoughts on the budget and its impact on New Jersey.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney
Stephen Sweeney: Gov. Chris Christie pulls the strings in NJ GOP

Published: Friday, July 15, 2011, 6:33 AM

By Star-Ledger Guest ColumnistThe Star-Ledger

By Stephen Sweeney

This week, the Legislature attempted to restore many of the vicious cuts Gov. Chris Christie made in his fiscal year 2012 budget. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Even though he was 2,500 miles away, the governor was still able to pull the strings of the minority party.

The Republicans’ failure, with one exception, to provide a single vote to override the governor’s vetoes simply affirms what I have stated before: The Republican Party has no voice in the Legislature other than Chris Christie’s. They continue to do a disservice to the people of New Jersey by allowing the governor to speak for them instead of with them.

The governor’s cuts were, in a word, devastating. His cuts callously targeted the middle-class folks already struggling to pay their ever-increasing property taxes. He went after the working poor who can’t afford legal counsel to fight an absentee landlord. He slashed, without rhyme or reason, funding that provides medication for individuals with AIDS, funding that would have sponsored programs protecting sexually abused children, and funding that would have helped the visually impaired.

The cuts hurt those who could least afford it. At the same time, the governor continued to protect his millionaire buddies by refusing to institute a “millionaires tax.” While I believe government can’t be all things to all people, government does have to provide a safety net.

That is why I and my Democratic colleagues chose to restore the funding cuts the governor made.

Helping those with AIDS or who are visually impaired, or protecting sexually abused children are universally accepted ideas that don’t break or bend based on ideology. Or at least they shouldn’t. But Republicans failed to vote their conscience. They failed to vote for just plain common sense and decency.

Instead of explaining their votes, the Republicans kept repeating the mantra of “political theater” on our part. Of course they did. How could anyone possibly defend what they did? I ask my Republican colleagues, if voting in support of AIDS medication or programs that protect sexually abused children is political theater, what constitutes political action? Is it supporting, yet again, the state’s 16,000 millionaires? Is it bankrupting our state’s cities and working families because the governor forbids them to do the right thing?

Actually, now that I think of it, there was political theater in Trenton this week. But the show was produced, written and directed by Chris Christie. The Republicans in the Legislature played the lead role, but no ad-libbing was allowed. They all had to follow the script written for them by the governor.

Stephen Sweeney is the state Senate president.



Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon

NJ Republican Assemblyman: We don't make promises we can't keep

Published: Friday, July 15, 2011, 6:30 AM

By Star-Ledger Guest ColumnistThe Star-Ledger

By Declan O’Scanlon

The old saying about overpromising and underdelivering would be an apt description of the Trenton Democrats’ approach to budgeting.

We heard compelling stories from people who are affected by the decisions we make. Most understand we had difficult choices to make, but that didn’t stop Democrats from promising funds to every group that appeared before the state Assembly Budget Committee.

At one point, their wish list of promises totaled $9 billion beyond the $29 billion we will have to spend, including public calls to make a $3.5 billion pension payment, $2.1 billion in property tax relief and $800 million in job incentives. They made promises with checks they couldn’t cash and now they’re trying to paint Gov. Chris Christie as the culprit of their broken promises. They chose to create a political prop for November instead of a sound plan for our future beyond.

Their proposal was based on unbalanced, irrelevant and uncertified numbers. Even their own advisers said it would be illegal to enact. You can’t balance your checkbook with what you hope you win on next week’s lottery ticket. That simply isn’t reality.

Even if the Democrats’ budget were enacted, it would likely require cruel and grueling midyear cuts, just like the last two budgets they crafted.

The fact that they crafted this plan in mere days after they had months to consider the governor’s proposal, and without any effort to work with Republican members of the Budget Committee, is proof they didn’t put in a serious effort. Their intention wasn’t to come up with an agreeable spending plan; it was to enable them to attack the governor.

Despite these political obstacles, this budget delivers on the Republican promise to spend only the money New Jersey has. This budget builds upon last year’s successes, including a cap on property taxes and historic bipartisan public employee benefits reform.

This budget doubles property tax relief for middle-class families, who face the highest tax bills in the nation, and restores the Senior Freeze Program. It increases aid for all our schools. It protects vital health safety nets for low-income families, senior citizens, the disabled and the uninsured. It keeps New Jersey on a path toward private sector job growth that we started last year by making $180 million worth of targeted tax cuts.

Now, Democrats falsely accuse the governor of cutting things that were never part of any viable spending plan — only in their scheme filled with gluttonous amounts of illegitimate spending. The Republican budget spends actual dollars. The Democrats wanted to use unsubstantiated tax revenues, phantom surpluses and $1 billion worth of fake funds.

Finally, much has been said about our Early Intervention Program for developmentally disabled children. This program serves our most vulnerable youngsters, but how can someone seriously say it was cut when we’re spending $5.7 million more than last year?

Those truths are ignored by Democrats because they don’t fit their political script. Democrats left this governor a budget that spent 30 percent more than the state had. Those times are over.

The Democrats never reached out to Republican members of the Budget Committee to work together. On the contrary, they intentionally withheld their budget language from us until after our hearing started. And that was a mere three days before the entire Legislature had to vote on it. That’s a clear sign they were more interested in picking a fight than participating in a legitimate budget process.

We wanted to triple property tax relief, provide more funding for low-income families, specialized nursing homes and prescription drugs for the most needy. But we understand that we had to live within our means.

We don’t make promises we know we can’t keep — especially when it involves spending money that belongs to the people. Now comes the real challenge of convincing our Democratic colleagues to do the same.

Declan O’Scanlon is a Republican assemblyman representing the 12th Legislative District.