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6-21-13 Trenton Compromises Puts State Budget FY'14 On Track To Gain Final Passage This Monday
(GSCS Note: In the end, $7.4M in school aid was added to offset SDA fee costs to local districts [this means that no district will receive less aid than last year and impacts about 270 school districts]…GSCS advocated early and often for SDA fees to be reduced; $1M was also added for school bullying…On the other side of the equation, $5M was reduced which will eliminate budget support for the proposed Innovation Fund, and $2M was eliminated which was to support a pilot voucher program. Both Legislative Budget Committees voted the compromise FY’14 State Budget out of their committees on Thursday and thus the stage is set for a session vote on Monday, and then the Appropriations Act of or FY’14 will go to the Governor for his signature. )

NJ Spotlight – Deal Answers School Funding Questions – For Now…Late compromises mean no districts will lose state aid in ‘election year’ budget

The Record-Statehouse Bureau- Legislative committees give green light to $33B N.J. budget … ‘There’s more money for cancer research, nursing homes, local school districts and county colleges. Communities in the Meadowlands that were hit hard by Superstorm Sandy will also get additional tax relief.But the $33 billion budget deal Governor Christie and lawmakers agreed to this week doesn’t fund the new income-tax credit the governor has been pressing for. Also left out of the spending bill was a school voucher program that Christie wanted…’

Politickernj-State Street Wire - Senate panel readying vote on budget compromise ‘…The negotiated plan projects a $300 million surplus and reallocates $97.2 million in spending that is offset by $97.2 million in revised spending projections for Medicaid and state health benefits by the administration.

Politickernj-State Street Wire - Budget bill passes Assembly budget panel

Politickernj-State Street Wire- Opportunity Scholarship Act money gone from budget

NJ Spotlight – Deal Answers School Funding Questions – For Now…Late compromises mean no districts will lose state aid in ‘election year’ budget

By John Mooney, June 21, 2013 in Education

After Governor Chris Christie proposed his fiscal 2014 budget this spring, NJ Spotlight asked five questions about what the ensuing deliberations would bring for New Jersey public schools.

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With the Legislature’s Democratic leadership yesterday introducing a budget that it had negotiated with the Christie administration, many of those questions have been answered.

How good -- or bad -- is the budget for schools?

In the end, no school district will see less money than it did this year – not exactly a win, but not quite as bad as it could have been.

Christie had advertised, in presenting his budget, that two-thirds of the state’s school districts would see state funding increases and no district would see a cut in aid. But that wasn’t exactly the case.

Due to a 60 percent increase in assessments to districts for school construction grants they received from the state, 270 districts were facing overall reductions in the amount of money received from the state.

As part of the negotiations between the Christie administration and the Democrats, however, $7.4 million was reduced from that so-called “claw-back” to districts, and now no district will see an overall reduction.

“That was a top priority of mine,” state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), the Senate budget committee chairman, said yesterday. “That gets 270 districts back to zero.”

It wasn’t as much as districts hoped, but it took the sting out of the budget for many communities – and gave Christie back at least one election-year talking point.

“We at least made the governor be at his word that nobody was taking a cut,” said state Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson), the Assembly’s budget chief.

Will 41 districts really end up with exactly one dollar more?

Christie made a big point of saying that two-thirds of all districts would see increased state aid this year, but notwithstanding the school construction assessments, A total of 41 of those districts were to get just a single dollar more.

That tiny amount led to some creative protests in a couple of New Jersey towns, including Hawthorne in Passaic County last month, but in the end, not much – if at all – appeared to change in the final allotment of formula aid.

“As usual at this point, everything is moving at 90 miles an hour,” said Michael Vrancik, chief lobbyist for the state’s school boards association. “Not saying we are dissatisfied, but the process is difficult to decipher.”

Whatever the final numbers, Vrancik said it was not a surprising budget for a year in which both the governor and the full Legislature will be on the ballot in November.

“It’s not really a clear victory for anyone,” he said. “It’s fair to say it was an election year budget.”

Did the administration defy the Legislature on at-risk aid -- again?

The Democratic-led Legislature has fought with the administration for two years over its quest to tweak the School Funding Reform Act with changes in the formula as it affects students with special needs and disabilities.

Last year and again in this budget, the administration reduced the amount of extra aid for at-risk students to bring it more in line with other states – or so it claimed.

Last year, the Democrats removed the budget language but left the final aid numbers in place, a largely inconsequential act. A year later, the Democrats did so again in the fiscal 2014 budget, signaling its protest of the changes by removing the legal language but leaving the actual money intact.

“The dollars don’t change, but we are not accepting the language,” Sarlo said.

Will this budget bring the first school vouchers to New Jersey?

An emphatic “NO.”

The consensus budget does not include $2 million that had been proposed for a pilot school-voucher program, which would have offered 200 low-income students $10,000 each to attend a school of their choice, public or private.

The proposal would have been the last notch in Christie’s school-reform agenda as he leads his reelection campaign, but Democrats contended from the beginning that it was untenable, especially as part of a budget.

“That was a nonstarter for us,” said Sarlo.

Even some who said they might have supported for the proposal said Christie may have made a mistake in making the pilot too limiting.

“Two hundred kids was just too small a sampling,” said Prieto. “And the guidelines of what kids they would be were problematic for me.”

What’s not in the budget – and what’s now in the budget?

The consensus budget did bring a couple of small adjustments for schools, both adding money and subtracting it.

Of the latter, state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf’s proposal for a $5 million Innovation Fund to provide individual grants to districts was ultimately taken out altogether.

Cerf had maintained the grants would help foster new approaches in school districts, especially in the use of technology, but Democratic leaders said there were too many questions about how the money would be spent.

“I’m thinking if we had a little more time, we could have worked out language on that,” Sarlo said.

Added Prieto: “We just didn’t know what it was going to be used for.”

But the Democrats said they were willing to add back a little money for one big initiative facing schools. Prieto said $1 million was put in the budget to help districts address the state’s new anti-bullying law, which requires specific steps and staffing to investigate and resolve bullying incidents.

Another initiative will see no such funding assistance for local districts -- teacher evaluation.

Districts are required in the next year to overhaul their teacher evaluation systems, with new standards for using student achievement and other measures in judging teachers, and schools had hoped for funds to help pay for the needed staff and training. Prieto said yesterday there would no such funding this year.

Is there really all that much money available to make significant changes?

In the end, it’s a pretty much a status quo budget for schools.

Nobody will be too thrilled with aid still below full funding as spelled out in the state’s school-finance laws, and while there’s a 1 percent increase in overall state aid, that’s still way below the increases in costs for districts.

That likely means pain for some districts, and funding debates will hardly end with the Legislature’s expected final passage on Monday -- but at least for now, this round of those debates has been concluded.

The Record-Statehouse Bureau- Legislative committees give green light to $33B N.J. budget … ‘There’s more money for cancer research, nursing homes, local school districts and county colleges. Communities in the Meadowlands that were hit hard by Superstorm Sandy will also get additional tax relief.But the $33 billion budget deal Governor Christie and lawmakers agreed to this week doesn’t fund the new income-tax credit the governor has been pressing for. Also left out of the spending bill was a school voucher program that Christie wanted…’

 

BY  JOHN REITMEYER AND MELISSA HAYES

There’s more money for cancer research, nursing homes, local school districts and county colleges. Communities in the Meadowlands that were hit hard by Superstorm Sandy will also get additional tax relief.

But the $33 billion budget deal Governor Christie and lawmakers agreed to this week doesn’t fund the new income-tax credit the governor has been pressing for. Also left out of the spending bill was a school voucher program that Christie wanted.

Democrats, who control the Legislature, didn’t get everything they wanted, either.

The spending plan, which committees in both houses of the Legislature approved on Thursday, does not include more money for women’s health services, expanded preschool education or a restoration of a tax credit for the working poor.

The state’s school-aid formula also wasn’t fully funded, and Homestead property tax relief remained stable even though property tax bills are up on average by $126 in New Jersey.

“This budget could have been better,” said state Sen. Nellie Pou, D-North Haledon. “I believe that we could have done a better job.”

Pou was one of two Democratic members of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee who voted against the budget bill at a meeting on Thursday. Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, also opposed the bill, which did not include a restoration of $7.5 million for women’s health services that Christie, a Republican, cut from the budget in 2010.

“We know that one of our biggest problems here in New Jersey, if not the biggest besides the economy, is property tax or property taxes,” Weinberg said. “We do not have substantial property-tax relief in this budget.”

With all Republican members voting in favor, the spending plan cleared the Senate committee by an 11-2 margin just before noon.

The Assembly Budget Committee approved the spending bill in a bipartisan vote later in the day, with Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, D-Paterson, casting the lone vote against the budget, citing concerns about urban school funding.

Republicans emphasized there are no tax increases or new taxes in the spending plan, which both houses are expected to approve on Monday. That will leave the governor plenty of time to sign the bill before July 1, when the state constitution requires a balanced budget to be in place.

“It’s a responsible budget, and the budget itself does the best for everyone we have to serve while being within the confines of the dollars we have to spend,” said Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon of Monmouth County, the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee.

Weeks of budget negotiations between Christie’s staff and Democratic legislative leaders resulted in the addition of nearly $100 million in new spending to the $32.9 billion budget Christie proposed in February. The additional spending was partially offset by cuts, resulting in a net increase of $55 million.

That figure includes $6 million in tax relief for 14 Meadowlands communities — including 10 in Bergen County — that participate in a tax-sharing program. The program requires towns in the district where development is not restricted to pay those whose development capabilities are limited under the program.

Because many of the paying towns – including Moonachie, Little Ferry and Carlstadt – were among the hardest-hit by Superstorm Sandy, the state will pay 85 percent of their contributions this year.

Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo, D-Wood-Ridge, and Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Vince Prieto, D-Hudson, both identified the tax relief as a priority during the budget talks.

Other changes added since Christie introduced the budget include $35 million to support last year’s higher education reorganization initiative, under which Rutgers University will absorb most of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey while ­UMDNJ’s­ School of Osteopathic Medicine is integrated into Rowan University in South Jersey starting July 1.

Lawmakers also added $20 million for cancer research grants and $3 million for county colleges. There’s also $13 million for community providers who serve the disabled and mentally ill, and $10 million for nursing homes.

Democratic legislative leaders said those new allocations are the result of their decision to work with Christie this year instead of the path they tried in 2011 and 2012, when lawmakers sent the governor their own budget bills just before the deadline, only to see Christie veto many of their priorities.

“I don’t believe anybody should be overly excited that this is a budget that funds all of our priorities,” Sarlo said. “But it is a balanced budget and it is a product of negotiations, good-faith negotiations between all parties.”

Though there is not a specific line item, the budget will cover the $24 million cost of the special primary and general elections to select a permanent replacement for U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died in office this month. Christie called for the special election instead of putting the contest on the Nov. 5 general election ballot, a move that Democrats have questioned and attempted to overturn in court.

Christie was unable to secure funding for some of his other priorities, including the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a school voucher program that he supports. A $100 income-tax credit for most homeowners and renters, something the governor has pressed for in recent weeks, was also not funded in the final version of the budget.

A spokesman for Christie did not respond to a request for comment on the budget deal Thursday.

Republican lawmakers said there was still much to like about the budget, the one that will be in place as Christie seeks a second term this year. All 120 legislative seats are also up for grabs in 2013.

“I think this is a good budget, it is a fair budget,” said Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.

Email: reitmeyer@northjersey.com,  hayes@northjersey.com

Politickernj-State Street Wire - Senate panel readying vote on budget compromise ‘…The negotiated plan projects a $300 million surplus and reallocates $97.2 million in spending that is offset by $97.2 million in revised spending projections for Medicaid and state health benefits by the administration.According to the proposal, the reallocated spending includes: $35 million for higher education reorganization; $20 million for cancer research grants; $13.2 million for a cost of living adjustment for community providers who care for vulnerable residents and the mentally disabled; $10.3 million for nursing home and specialized care facilities; $7.4 million in school aid and $6 million for tax relief for the Meadowlands communities.’

TRENTON – Senate lawmakers are readying to vote a $32.9 billion budget plan out of committee Thursday morning.

Sen. Paul Sarlo, chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, issued a statement indicating lawmakers and Gov. Chris Christie have compromised on a budget proposal. The Democratic lawmaker said the plan “makes the best use of available resources,” but added it doesn’t achieve everything Democratic lawmakers hoped for under a stronger economy.

“This is a reasonable and responsible fiscal plan for New Jersey that reflects the difficult economic conditions that continue to require hard decisions on state finances,” Sarlo said in a statement.

“This is a negotiated budget. By coming to an agreement with the administration and our counterparts in the Assembly we are able to finalize a plan far in advance of the July 1 deadline and we avoid any contentious disagreements or any possibility of a disruption in state services,” he said.

The negotiated plan projects a $300 million surplus and reallocates $97.2 million in spending that is offset by $97.2 million in revised spending projections for Medicaid and state health benefits by the administration.

According to the proposal, the reallocated spending includes: $35 million for higher education reorganization; $20 million for cancer research grants; $13.2 million for a cost of living adjustment for community providers who care for vulnerable residents and the mentally disabled; $10.3 million for nursing home and specialized care facilities; $7.4 million in school aid and $6 million for tax relief for the Meadowlands communities.

Politickernj-State Street Wire - Budget bill passes Assembly budget panel

By Bill Mooney | June 20th, 2013 - 3:58pm

TRENTON – The Assembly Budget Committee followed on the heels of this morning’s Senate Budget Committee vote and advanced the fiscal year 2014 budget package.

With little discussion, the bill passed with bipartisan support but Republican Assemblyman Jay Webber and Democratic Assembly members Bonnie Watson Coleman and Gary Schaer abstained and Benjie Wimberley voted no.

A4200: Appropriates state and federal funds for the state budget for fiscal year 2013-2014.

The budget is comprised of $32.9 billion in state funds and $13 billion in federal funds.

Chair Vincent Prieto said it has bipartisan support reached by negotiation.  “It may not be a perfect bill,’’ he said, but it moves in the right direction.

The Health Care Association of New Jersey thanked the lawmakers for the $10 million for specialized care nursing facilities, cautioning that it was inadequate for the purpose.

Republican Declan O’Scanlon said that after months of work, this budget is close to what was proposed in February, with about $100 million in changes, “a few things we may disagree on,’’ but done within the confines of what the state has available to spend.

Politickernj-State Street Wire- Opportunity Scholarship Act money gone from budget

By State Street Wire Staff | June 20th, 2013 - 1:32pm

TRENTON – The proposed fiscal year 2014 budget as currently presented deletes the language for the Opportunity Scholarship Act pilot school choice program.

The program was intended to provide scholarships of $10,000 per student to families with limited incomes whose children are in chronically failing schools so that the children can attend other schools with better educational opportunities.

The February budget message by the governor estimated $2 million for a trimmed demonstration program but the money at this point is not included in the budget bills, S3000/A4200.

There has been a lack of unanimous support among Democrats for the program, with some decrying it as hurtful to public schools, but with supporters championing it as a possible model for improving educational opportunities. 


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828