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4-4-07 News articles, editorial & Op-Ed on bill signings for A1 and A4
THE RECORD 'Districts losing power to county superintendents' "County superintendents were transformed from administrative afterthoughts to arbiters of school spending on Tuesday, as Governor Corzine signed a law granting them line-item veto power over school district budgets..." "...It also gives them the power to craft consolidation plans for smaller, K-6 or K-8 school districts, proposals that would be brought before voters for approval...The notion of broadened powers for county superintendents has been fiercely opposed by many school administrators, advocates and parents..."

THE RECORD - 'Corzine: Be skeptical on tax reform' "...Residents have heard lawmakers promise for decades that change will come, and they have a right to be leery of these new actions, despite the coming payments that could average $1,000, Corzine said..."

"...Republican critics say the credit program is simply a budget-busting expense that relies on a tax increase with no reliable funding for future years..."

STAR LEDGER - 'State expands property tax relief' ... While celebrating the new tax relief, Corzine acknowledged he and lawmakers have more work to do...And he noted lawmakers and the administration still must devise a new formula for distributing almost $8 billion in state aid to schools each year..."

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS - 'Tax reform 101: How you'll fare' "..Q: What's left? A: Public worker unions must approve a proposed contract that includes health and pension benefit concessions. Corzine hasn't taken action on a bill to bar newly elected officials from taxpayer-funded pensions. A new school funding plan isn't ready..."

GANNETT-'Rebates, local budget caps signed into law' "...Republicans, and some Democrats, have said the Corzine administration's failure to create a new school-funding formula leaves a major hole in tax reform because school costs make up the bulk of property taxes.

"The absence of a new school-funding formula is the clearest example of the sessions's failure to confront the root causes of our property tax predicament," said Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance, R-Hunterdon..."

ASBURY PK PRESS OP-ED: 'School funding in Corzine's budget better, but not good enough' "...The time for action is now. We need a school funding formula that not only addresses the needs of at-risk students while taking into account the dramatic growth in suburban school districts. The need of suburban districts to deal with rising costs of educating special-education students also must be addressed..."

ASBURY PK PRESS EDITORIAL: Nothing landmark about "tax relief"

Districts losing power to county superintendents
Wednesday, April 4, 2007

By KATHLEEN CARROLL
STAFF WRITER


County superintendents were transformed from administrative afterthoughts to arbiters of school spending on Tuesday, as Governor Corzine signed a law granting them line-item veto power over school district budgets.

The sweeping new law is designed to promote shared services among municipalities and school districts.

Under its so-called super superintendents provision, county superintendents become gubernatorial appointees charged with approving all local administrative contracts and school budgets.

It also gives them the power to craft consolidation plans for smaller, K-6 or K-8 school districts, proposals that would be brought before voters for approval.

The notion of broadened powers for county superintendents has been fiercely opposed by many school administrators, advocates and parents.

"Our concern is that it really takes away a lot of the control from the local Board of Education," said Northern Valley Superintendent Jan Furman, who noted that, unlike other public spending plans, voters are empowered to approve or reject local school budgets.

The new law also requires school districts to clearly disclose the details of compensation packages for top school brass to the state commissioner of education, including salary, benefits, contract terms and separation agreements for superintendents, assistant superintendents and business administrators.

The state Department of Education must develop regulations that specify how the new "executive county superintendents" will do their jobs. A spokesman on Tuesday said the department did not yet have details or a deadline for introducing the rules.

The new law "could help communities save tax dollars, or it could lead to some draconian changes that don't yield much savings at all," said Mike Yaple, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association. "The devil is in the details."

E-mail: carroll@northjersey.com

 

Corzine: Be skeptical on tax reform
Wednesday, April 4, 2007

By JOHN P. McALPIN
TRENTON BUREAU


Most North Jersey homeowners will get a 20 percent property tax credit later this year and their local officials must start keeping tax bills in check thanks to new laws signed Tuesday.

TAX FORUM


Discussion: Contribute to the debate on reducing taxes, question the governor's plan or interact with Trenton reporter John McAlpin and your fellow taxpayers.

But people will have to wait at least several years to see the results of more substantial reforms to New Jersey's property tax system that grows over 7 percent a year, Governor Corzine said after he signed the measures.

Residents have heard lawmakers promise for decades that change will come, and they have a right to be leery of these new actions, despite the coming payments that could average $1,000, Corzine said.

"I'd be skeptical too, if I was a taxpayer. Until I see the results, it's show-me time," Corzine said, adding that those results will take years to happen. "The reforms take time. It's not one of those things where you're going to get instant gratification."

The measures signed Tuesday bring to a close the Legislature's special session on property tax reforms, launched in July. Corzine and Democratic leaders pledged to enact significant changes to the property tax system by December, but that deadline came and went with enactment of a handful of mostly minor changes. This year, Democrats regrouped and focused on the bills Corzine signed Tuesday.

The first provides a 20 percent tax credit for homeowners who meet income guidelines. It also caps local tax bills at 4 percent a year, although several costs, such as negotiated pay raises and insurance, will not be counted toward the new cap. It is not an iron- clad cutoff, either -- voters can agree to raise taxes beyond the 4 percent and state officials still have discretion to approve higher rates.

For most residents, the tax credit will be the biggest and most visible change in the coming months. Homeowners earning $100,000 or less will see a credit of about 20 percent of the property tax bill paid in 2006. Higher income households will receive a smaller credit and none will be provided for those earning more than $250,000.

About 500,000 tenants will see credits as high as $350, up from the average $75 they receive now. The credits for both groups are expected before October.

Overall, the program will spend more than $2.2 billion. The Corzine administration is pressing to develop a system where the credit will be applied directly to the local tax bills. If that system is not ready, homeowners will be mailed checks. Corzine said there is "a high probability" that homeowners will be mailed a check.

To pay for the program, officials plan to use money collected through an increase in the sales tax. The program replaces an existing $900 million rebate program.

Republican critics say the credit program is simply a budget-busting expense that relies on a tax increase with no reliable funding for future years.

"Sustainable relief can only be achieved through reforms that make substantive adjustments in the way local services, including education, are provided and financed," said Sen. Leonard Lance, R-Hunterdon.

* * *

A tax break with a big 'if'

Governor Corzine on Tuesday signed off on a property tax credit program and a new law to cap local tax rates. Here's what they will mean to you:

  A new tax credit an average of $1,000 for qualifying homeowners.

Those making under $100,000 will get a 20 percent credit.

Incomes over $101,000 but less than $150,000 will earn a 15 percent credit.

Incomes over $151,000 but less than $250,000 earn a 10 percent credit.

  The law forces towns and schools to keep tax increases to no more than 4 percent. It does allow for several exemptions. Voters and state officials can also approve higher increases.

What's next?

  Finding a way to distribute the credit. If a system to create a direct credit on individual tax bills is not ready soon, homeowners will be mailed a check equal to the credit.

  Finding a way to pay for this next year. The state has the $2.2 billion needed to cover the program in the budget being reviewed but no dedicated money after that.

-- John P. McAlpin

State expands property tax relief

Corzine signs $2.2 billion rebate bill with a flourish and says more needs to be done

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

BY DUNSTAN McNICHOL

Star-Ledger Staff

Clearing the way for rebates of about $1,000 for most homeowners, Gov. Jon Corzine yesterday signed a $2.2 billion tax relief plan, the centerpiece of the Legislature's nine-month drive to rein in property taxes.

"I'm here to say we've done very well," Corzine said during a ceremony at Trenton's War Memorial, where he signed the tax relief bill (A1) and a second measure (A4) designed to control local school spending. "It's not everything that everyone would like, but it's really extraordinary."

The tax relief plan offers homeowners who annually earn up to $250,000 state subsidies designed to offset up to 20 percent of their property tax bills. It also attempts to impose a 4 percent cap on the year-to-year growth of local government tax collections, nearly half the average rate that property taxes have increased the past five years.

The bill promises tax benefits averaging $1,051 for almost 1.9 million homeowners, about 95 percent of the state's homeowners. A half-million renters will share an additional $251 million in rebates.

For typical homeowners, the new program offers a check that will be almost $700 larger than they received last year, state Treasury Department records indicate. (An estimate of how the plan will affect you is available online at nj.com under the "Jersey By The Numbers" section.)

While celebrating the new tax relief, Corzine acknowledged he and lawmakers have more work to do before the problem of soaring property taxes in New Jersey is truly resolved.

Specifically, Corzine promised to press for legislation that would let local governments impose local taxes and set "impact fees" on developers to help cover the cost of schools and other public expenses needed to accommodate population growth. And he noted lawmakers and the administration still must devise a new formula for distributing almost $8 billion in state aid to schools each year.

"We're not done," Corzine said. "We need to keep fighting."

Critics, including many Republican leaders, said Corzine and the Democrats who control the Assembly and Senate have already lost the fight by failing to deliver many of the most significant initiatives proposed during a nine-month special Legislative session on property tax reform.

"Instead of taking the chance to make the dramatic changes needed to reinvigorate the state, the majority opted to enact press release reforms that look good on paper," said Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-Monmouth), a former Republican State Committee chairman.

"The session was supposed to deliver 'bold and transformative action' to provide New Jersey's long-suffering residents with meaningful and sustainable property tax reform," Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance (R-Hunterdon) said. "Instead, the governor and the Democratic legislative leadership are offering the public a one-shot election-year gimmick."

Democrats intent on keeping control of the Legislature in the November elections say the special session on property taxes produced significant reforms.

Besides pouring billions into the rebate program, lawmakers passed bills to set up a special committee to target school boards and municipal governments for elimination through merger (S15), establish a new Office of State Comptroller to monitor government spending (S12) and establish new county school superintendents with veto power over local board of education budgets (A4).

"Today we celebrate the property-tax payers of New Jersey as winners," said Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden), sponsor of the superintendents' bill, which Corzine also signed yesterday. "This is a win they should have gotten a long time ago. This is a win they richly deserve."

UNCERTAIN IMPACT

Corzine and lawmakers agreed the full impact of the reforms won't be known for years.

Later this month, for instance, residents in many communities will be asked to vote on school budgets that would raise property tax bills by far more than the 4 percent cap suggested in the tax relief bill signed yesterday.

Corzine acknowledged steeper local tax increases will occur because it will take time for already-set expenses -- such as pay raises included in existing contracts, and scheduled increases in pension payments -- to work their way through local budgets.

"I don't think it's going to get us there immediately," Corzine said of the 4 percent cap. "But I think we're going to be on a glide path to get us there."

Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester), who is also mayor of Paulsboro, said the reform and relief will play out in tandem.

"New Jersey will take a big step toward long-term reform and a gallop toward relief," he said.

Dunstan McNichol may be reached at (609) 989-0341 or

dmcnichol@starledger.com.

Tax reform 101: How you'll fare

Rebates are greater for those earning less

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 04/4/07

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

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TRENTON Most New Jerseyans will get a 20 percent property tax cut under legislation signed Tuesday by Gov. Corzine. Here's a look at how the plan to ease America's highest property taxes will work:

Q: How much will I get?

A: Households who earn up to:

$100,000 will get a 20 percent cut, an average of $1,115.

$150,000 will get a 15 percent cut, an average of $960.

$250,000 will get a 10 percent cut, an average of $745.

Q: How will I get the cut?

A: The plan called for crediting a homeowner's tax bill this summer, but the state has run into problems with people who pay property taxes through their mortgages and with keeping income data confidential if credits are used. Homeowners will get checks if credits can't be created.

Q: How does this compare to what I've been getting?

A: Last year rebate checks delivered up to $1,200 to senior citizens and up to $350 to others. The new plan guarantees that seniors will receive no less than they got last year.

Q: What about renters?

A: Renters who earn up to $20,000 will get $350, up to $35,000 will get $300, up to $50,000 will get $200 and up to $100,000 will get $80. They all got $75 last year.

Senior citizen renters who earn up to $70,000 will get $860, up from $825 last year. Senior citizens who earn up to $100,000 will get $160.

Q: How is this being paid for?

A: The $2.3 billion plan is being paid for with money that has gone to rebates and money from the state's sales tax.

Q: Is this a one-year program?

A: The legislation lacks guarantees that the cut be funded annually. Republicans say it's an election-year gimmick. Majority Democrats insist it's sustainable.

Q: What good will more relief do if taxes keep rising?

A: The plan calls for capping annual increases at 4 percent.

Q: So taxes will no longer rise 7 percent, as they have been?

A: Not exactly. Certain costs would be exempt from the cap, and schools and towns could ask the state or voters for approval to exceed the cap, though 60 percent of voters would have to approve.

Q: Why are New Jersey property taxes so high?

A: New Jersey relies heavily on property taxes to fund schools and local governments. According to the U.S. Census, 53 percent of funding for New Jersey schools comes from the property tax, the highest such rate in the nation. The national average is 43 percent.

Q: What's being done to change that reliance?

A: Nothing. Legislators rejected both Corzine's proposal to give local governments authority to levy other taxes and a proposal to fund schools with income taxes.

Q: Did the governor sign other bills Tuesday?

A: Yes. A bill to authorize county school superintendents to veto local school spending, though schools could appeal to the state. The county superintendents would also have to recommend to voters a plan to merge schools within three years.

Q: What other steps have been taken?

A: Corzine has signed bills to create a comptroller to investigate wasteful government spending, a commission to ask voters to merge towns, strip taxpayer-funded pensions from corrupt public workers and impose new rules on school administrator contracts.

Q: What's left?

A: Public worker unions must approve a proposed contract that includes health and pension benefit concessions. Corzine hasn't taken action on a bill to bar newly elected officials from taxpayer-funded pensions. A new school funding plan isn't ready.

Property tax cuts up to 20 percent on way

Rebates, local budget caps signed into law

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 04/4/07

BY JONATHAN TAMARI
GANNETT STATE BUREAU

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TRENTON New Jersey homeowners can expect property tax rebates of up to 20 percent this fall after Gov. Corzine signed into law Tuesday the main planks of Democrats' property tax reform plans.

The income-based property tax breaks will range from 10 percent to 20 percent of homeowners' bills for those earning $250,000 or less. Renters with incomes less than $100,000 will receive rebates ranging from $80 to $350.

"Tax relief is real, credits are real, and they're on their way," Corzine said just before signing the bill at the Trenton War Memorial building.

Corzine said he had hoped to deliver the tax relief as a direct credit on tax bills but that it will likely go out this year as rebate checks.

The new law also imposes a 4 percent cap on property tax increases, with exceptions carved out for items such as existing contracts and debt.

Corzine, joined by Senate President Richard J. Codey, D-Essex, and Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr., D-Camden, acknowledged past promises of tax relief have come and gone and conceded taxpayers will be skeptical of the latest round of relief. But Corzine and Roberts both said tax relief will remain a priority, and all three leaders said more reforms are still to come.

"It can be sustainable, it will be sustainable, it must be sustainable, because the property tax problem in this state has to be at the top of our list every year," Roberts said.



GOP leaders skeptical

Republicans have said the state cannot afford the $2.3 billion property tax relief program in the long run. Democrats have revenued in the budget the money needed to pay for the relief this year but have not detailed how to fund it in the future.

"Instead of taking the chance to make the dramatic changes needed to reinvigorate the state, the majority opted to enact press release reforms that look good on paper," said Sen. Joseph M. Kyrillos Jr., R-Monmouth.

Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, R-Morris, called the relief plan "another warmed-over rebate and unsustainable election-year gimmick." DeCroce was among 23 Assembly Republicans who voted for the relief plan.

Another piece of the property tax package Corzine signed Tuesday aims to control education spending by empowering county school superintendents to veto pieces of school budgets and propose school consolidations.

The rebates will average $1,100 for the 1.9 million homeowners who qualify, according to Corzine's office. Senior citizens, who currently receive property tax rebate checks of up to $1,200, will get either their existing relief or the newly enacted rebates, whichever is larger.

New Jerseyans currently pay property tax bills averaging $6,331 per year.

School-funding reform

Republicans, and some Democrats, have said the Corzine administration's failure to create a new school-funding formula leaves a major hole in tax reform because school costs make up the bulk of property taxes.

"The absence of a new school-funding formula is the clearest example of the sessions's failure to confront the root causes of our property tax predicament," said Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance, R-Hunterdon.

Corzine said a new formula will be a priority. He also said he has an agreement from legislative leaders to approve a ban on lawmakers holding more than one elected office before the state budget is finalized. He said there are still details to work out on when the ban will take effect and who it will affect.

The only other property tax bill still awaiting Corzine's signature would make some pension reforms for elected and appointed public officials. Property tax-related laws previously signed by Corzine would create a comptroller's office to monitor government spending, increase oversight of schools, create a commission to recommend town mergers and mandate pension forfeiture for corrupt public officials.

Jonathan Tamari: jtamari@gannett.com

School funding in Corzine's budget better, but not good enough

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 04/4/07

BY ROBERT W. SINGER

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I applaud Gov. Corzine for budgeting a minimum of a 3 percent increase in state school aid for all school districts, after five years of flat-funding for the suburban districts.

I also laud the governor's proposal for trying to improve aid to at-risk students across the state, regardless of whether they live in an Abbott district. Such efforts will allow districts such as Lakewood, Bordentown Regional, New Hanover and North Hanover in the 30th Legislative District to receive additional funding for programs to help low-income students.

Those school districts and Plumsted, Upper Freehold Regional, Roosevelt, Farmingdale and Chesterfield also would get help for their full-day kindergarten programs. Funding like this is critical to help students in every district across the state receive a high quality education.

However, these efforts are not enough. The aid increase Corzine promised in his proposed budget does not provide the help other districts, such as Washington Township in the 30th Legislative District, so desperately need. Districts such as Washington Township have long suffered from a funding formula that favors urban districts over rural and suburban districts, which are constantly facing enrollment increases and escalating special-education costs. Five years of flat funding has translated into a 300 percent property tax increase for some property taxpayers in Washington Township. A 3 percent increase does next to nothing to ease their burden.

For that reason, it is unacceptable Corzine and the Democratic majority have not followed through on their promise to adopt a more equitable school-funding formula. Unfortunately, a new funding formula was not ready in time, so it was not included in the governor's proposed budget.

The lack of a new funding formula is a travesty. People care about the education of our schoolchildren. This is consistently confirmed by calls from constituents and polls taken across the state. They also are justifiably in need of property tax relief and reform. However, property taxpayers have been severely let down on both fronts.

The time for action is now. We need a school funding formula that not only addresses the needs of at-risk students while taking into account the dramatic growth in suburban school districts. The need of suburban districts to deal with rising costs of educating special-education students also must be addressed.

Growth will be an important factor in any new formula. If the rising enrollment in rural and suburban districts is not taken into account and addressed appropriately, their property tax crisis not only will continue but will become worse. A student in need is a student in need; the state has an obligation to all of them.

During the budget approval process, I will continue my work to bring about more fairness for all school districts across the state and advocate for a new school-funding formula that considers the growth of towns and the needs of all students.

Robert W. Singer is a Republican state senator from the 30th Legislative District, which includes parts of Ocean, Monmouth, Burlington and Mercer counties.

EDITORIAL:

Nothing landmark about "tax relief"

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 04/4/07

Gov. Corzine signed property tax relief legislation into law Tuesday, trumpeting it as "landmark."

"I am proud to sign into law a remarkable combination of relief and reform that seemed impossible just a few years or even a few months ago," Corzine said.

The only thing remarkable about it is how Corzine and the Legislature believe voters will be fooled into thinking it is worthy of the adjective "landmark." Clearly, they are counting on the gullibility of the electorate. All 120 seats in the Legislature are up for election in November.

Instead of reducing spending by cutting government programs and jobs, and bringing public employee salaries and benefits into the 21st century, they have opted for a shell game instead demonstrating once again their low regard for the intelligence and attention span of the voter.

The relief package will provide up to a 20 percent reduction in property tax bills this year either through a rebate check or a tax credit. The bill also is designed to cap annual property tax bills at 4 percent not counting exemptions, of course.

The tax credits will be funded with recycled tax dollars $900 million from the tax rebate program, which is being eliminated, and $1.4 billion from two year's worth of sales tax revenues generated by half of the increase in the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent. There is no permanent source of funding for the tax credits. If history is any guide, they may well disappear in 2008, when there are no legislative elections.

The cap on spending also is a farce. The 4 percent ceiling is higher than both the rate of inflation and the previous cap 2.5 percent for municipalities and 3.5 percent or the rate of inflation whichever was greater for school districts. Consumer prices in the North Jersey-New York region rose 3.2 percent in 2006.

Exemptions on the old caps allowed tax bills to rise about 7 percent a year. While the new cap has fewer loopholes, many remain. And the exemptions tend to increase with time, in response to each new demand for them by the state's all-powerful unions.

As this fall's elections draw near, the math of the tax relief sham bears repeating:

A family paying the state average of about $6,000 in property taxes will get a maximum 20 percent credit of $1,200. Last year, the average homeowner received a $285 Homestead Rebate that they won't get this year. Subtracting that reduces the tax relief to $915 about 15 percent of the tax bill. Corzine has said that even with a 4 percent cap, homeowners could probably expect a 6 percent to 7 percent local tax increase this year. A 6.5 percent hike would add $390 to the tax bill, further reducing the "relief" to $525, or under 9 percent.

From that figure, subtract last year's 16 percent increase in the sales tax, which will fund most of this year's property tax credit. The state estimates it will cost the average family an additional $275 per year a figure we believe to be grossly understated. Even at $275, the so-called relief for the average taxpayer would be whittled down to $250 a mere 4.1 percent. None of that takes into account the annual rate of inflation likely more than 3 percent or the myriad "nuisance" and "sin" taxes heaped on New Jersey residents over the last several years.

"Landmark" tax relief? Only to those who write press releases for Democrats seeking re-election in November.

 


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