A sign appearing in front of the podium when Gov. Phil Murphy announced his school funding plan proclaimed “Fully Funding Our Public Schools.”
But according to Assembly Minority Leader John DiMaio (R-23) and Republicans, Murphy’s boast is nothing more than political hyperbole, a talking-point as he and other GOP lawmakers decried cuts to certain school districts.
“The premise that schools are fully funded is an outright lie,” said DiMaio.
Districts Losing Aid
The 67-year-old Republican noted that nearly 150 schools under Murphy’s school aid funding formula will once again tag homeowners with increased property taxes, while allocating a small portion of New Jersey’s huge budget surplus in order to meet Murphy’s adequacy level of funding. However, the state’s school funding formula won’t be fully funded until next year, with only a portion of the funds coming from the state treasury known as “equalization aid.”
DiMaio, along with his Republican colleagues in the Assembly, are proposing state funded schools within low-income school districts need remedial relief from increased property tax as they can not afford Murphy’s school aid funding formula.
“It’s also a lie to call it property tax relief, just after we learned that property taxes increased yet again in New Jersey. That’s not relief,” the Warren County lawmaker said. “The state could fully fund schools up to adequacy and allow property taxes to actually be lowered. Neither are a priority for the governor.”
Republicans pointed to numbers from the Department of Community Affairs, which showed that New Jersey’s property taxes increased by 2.2% last year, above the 2% cap initiated over a decade ago, resulting in an increase of $206 on a typical tax bill. The data revealed that property taxes account for well over 52% of all school funding.
Since 2018, the year Murphy became governor, school property taxes have increased by nearly $1.9 billion, an increase of about $500 on the average tax bill. DiMaio’s plan would provide over $620 in relief on the average bill.
Republican members within the Assembly Appropriations Committee have put Murphy on notice, rejecting his claim that his $53.1 billion budget plan equates to property tax relief, Instead, they are pushing their own plan (A5253) that would fully fund schools and provide real property tax relief, by tapping into income tax revenues.
“While Governor Murphy has increased school aid, property taxes continue to go up, too,” observed Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-25). “The pain of property taxes is only getting worse. Taxpayers are not getting relief, they’re hurting. The good news is that it is possible to lower property taxes while increasing school funding and I hope to see bipartisan support for our plan.”
Under Murphy’s plan New Jersey isn’t obligated to fund schools up to adequacy; instead, the state relies on taxing homeowners to fill in the school funding gap. The GOP says their plan would cut property taxes by at least $1.2 billion.
Rooney: Use Surplus for Relief
“The state hoarding $10 billion in surplus while residents live paycheck to paycheck, school districts face big cuts and students suffer from unprecedented learning loss seems unconscionable,” said Assemblyman Kevin J. Rooney (R-40). “We have the opportunity to fully and fairly fund schools, and provide long-term, reliable property tax relief.”
In North Jersey, all seven counties are slated to receive more state aid then they did last year. Essex County will receive the most aid at $1.8 billion, a rise of 9.5%. Morris County will have the largest percentage increase at 16.1%, receiving $30.6 million more from last year for an overall total of $220.9 million.
In order of greatest aid after Essex, Passaic County will receive $1.0 billion, up 7.7%, followed by Hudson County at $810.6 million (up 0.7%), Bergen County at $451.2 million (up 13.4%), Warren County at $111.6 million (up 6.1%), and Sussex County at $82.5 million (up 2.2%).
Backlash on Cuts
Republicans point to homeowners within middle income districts like Wildwood, were the school funding would be cut by 53%, losing $2.1 millions of state aid next year. State Sen. Michael Testa (R-1) responded that Wildwood is not a wealthy town who could withstand the cuts without raising taxes.
“What does the governor think is going to happen to their schools and students who are struggling to recover from shutdowns? What does he think this will do to property taxpayers?,” asked Testa. “These are real people, not just numbers on a spreadsheet.”
“It’s shockingly destructive and completely indefensible when his administration is sitting on a $10 billion surplus that could support our schools and prevent huge property tax increases on families that are barely getting by.”
Murphy Sitting on $10 Billion Surplus
The 46-year-old legislator said the cuts shows just how misplaced this administration’s priorities are.
Testa also noted that Murphy’s budget proposal included some questionable Christmas Tree items such as $12 million for a French arts center, $10 million to build the State Hall of Fame in a mall, and $120 million to give illegal immigrants checks of up to $4,000 each.
“Governor Murphy has enough money to waste tens of millions of dollars on budget pork and to write huge checks to illegal aliens, but he can’t fund schools in Wildwood and hundreds of other towns?” the GOP lawmaker asked. “These cuts are going to be tragic for Wildwood and many other districts across the state.”
Spending down the surplus to provide property tax relief would be totally irresponsible. At some point, we’re going to need the surplus, and then we won’t have it, causing us to face a choice between spending cuts with lost services, or property tax/income tax increases. Republicans have a plan to implement the latter, so that only the rich can afford to live. Instead of talking about raiding the surplus, we should raise income taxes on the wealthy and/or index property taxes to income (which has the effect of raising taxes on the wealthy). Income-indexed property tax will allow seniors and younger people inheriting family homes to remain in their homes and communities, instead of being taxed out of the state.
Correction, Republicans have a plan to implement the former — spending cuts with lost services. Sorry. Too much blood in my caffeine.