I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

More "We Just Don't Have The Money!"

Whoo boy:
The New Jersey Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to tell a special master examining the constitutionality of last year’s school aid cuts to take into account the state’s fiscal crisis.
The state, represented by Assistant Attorney General Nancy Kaplen, sought the ruling, claiming that the recession severely hurt tax revenues and should be taken into account. 
The court said the special master is "authorized to entertain any and all evidence as he sees fit" but that the "court retained for its future consideration the question of what effect, if any, the state's fiscal condition may have" on the issues at stake. 
Kaplen was also denied on a request to delay the hearing. It is scheduled for Feb. 14 in Hackensack. 
Last month the court appointed a special master, Bergen County Assignment Judge Peter Doyne, to assess whether the aid cuts had such a severe impact on instruction and safety that they deprived children of their rights to “thorough and efficient” educations. The state must prove the cuts did not hurt core educational programs. 
The case stems from a legal challenge by the Education Law Center, which argued that Governor Christie’s cuts violated the state’s obligation to fully fund the 2008 school aid formula for three years and then review its effects. 
Doyne told the parties he was not permitted to consider the state’s fiscal constraints as part of his fact-finding or conclusions, Kaplen said in court papers. Kaplen called New Jersey’s budget crisis a “critical consideration’’ that should be part of his assessment; the governor faced a gaping deficit because of the recession’s drop in tax revenues but was required to pass a balanced budget.
Early on in the Christie War On Schools, it seemed strange to me that the guv was not going full force after the Abbotts. But that's changed over the last several of months. The new plan apparently is to slash state aid to the poor districts and give it to the 'burbs, who will be so grateful for anything at this point that they'll ignore the fact that they got totally shafted over the last year (actually, two years, as the first cuts affected districts mid-year).

Politically, I guess this could play well to the 'burbs, as it sets up a big city-'burb war with Christie and the courts fighting as proxies. But if the 'burbs are going to have to wait to get any aid, Christie's base is going to get really, really pissed. Soccer moms are going to watch their beloved schools gut everything they and their kids love about suburban districts - sports, electives, arts, clubs, field trips, beloved teachers, small class sizes - while their taxes still shoot up. This will not play well in Chatham.

And through it all, not one "serious" person in NJ will ask the obvious question:

Why don't we raise taxes on the wealthy to support our schools?

ADDING: I love this:
Kaplen also wrote that she needed more time to prepare. 
“The current schedule severely handicaps the state’s ability to present its case,” she wrote. “Given the substantial burden of proof placed on the state by this court, such a schedule is extremely unfair.” 
Attorney David Sciarra of the Education Law Center, which represents poor children, countered in court papers that speed was crucial so the justices could render their decision in time to affect funding for the coming school year. Sciarra noted that the justices had already addressed the state’s fiscal crisis during last month’s oral arguments.
Oh, boo-friggin'-hoo, Kaplen. Sciarra's absolutely right - this can't wait. You signed on to do your boss's dirty work; if he hatched the plan too late, that's nobody's problem but his and yours.

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