NJEA assails Christie budget

Governor’s choices hurt economy, middle class

Published on Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Sean SpillerNJEA Secretary-Treasurer Sean M. Spiller delivered the following testimony at the March 10th hearing of the Senate Budget Committee in Paramus.

“Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to testify. I am Sean Spiller, secretary-treasurer of the New Jersey Education Association.

“NJEA and its members understand that budgets require difficult choices. After all, our members have to make the same kinds of tough choices when it comes to their own budgets, particularly in light of Chapter 78’s impact on their wallets. They have had to face the serious economic repercussions of increased pension contributions and mandatory premium sharing on health benefits while salary settlements with school districts have failed to keep pace with inflation.

“These are challenging economic times for the state as a result of policy decisions that elevated the desires of millionaires over the needs of the middle class. And where has that gotten us?

“New Jersey’s growth rate is the second worst in the nation.

“And we are one of only three states in which more people are falling into poverty than climbing out of it.

“According to a recent article in the Asbury Park Press, the state’s rate of recovery is so slow that it would take 44 years to find jobs for the state’s nearly 300,000 unemployed residents.

“The state’s stagnant economy is a crisis for every resident of this state – unless they are a millionaire. Under Governor Christie’s leadership, IRS data show that only New Jersey residents who make $1 million or more saw an increase in their net revenues. Everyone else saw a significant decrease.

“But let’s take a closer look at the governor’s choices in this budget.

“Once again, the governor has shortchanged the school funding formula – this year by at least $1 billion – bringing the total shortfall to schools to more than $7 billion.

“For 513 out of 596 school districts, school aid this year is flat-funded.

“And while the governor says flat funding of state school aid will hold districts harmless, state PARCC testing mandates, rising insurance costs, and a strict budget cap will cause real, irreversible harm through the loss of essential programs, services, and opportunities for our students.

“Only 83 districts out of 596 received any increase in aid at all.

“This is unconscionable at a time when school districts are being forced to invest significant amounts to successfully fund the administration of the PARCC. If New Jersey had opted out of this poorly designed and onerous standardized test the way so many other states have done, the impact would not have been as serious – economically as well as academically – as it is now.

“At the same time, the governor is once again proposing to strip $2 million from our high-quality public schools to fund a pilot voucher scheme that will benefit private operators – not public school students.

“It’s just one more example of the kind of choices that the governor and his administration have made that disproportionately affect middle-class New Jerseyans while benefiting private companies and the wealthy.

“Under the FY 2016 budget, higher education will receive an additional $1.3 million in funding – but at the same time, the governor’s budget cuts more than $4 million in grants, scholarships, and other tuition aid that middle class students rely on to continue their educations.

“Meanwhile, the governor’s tax breaks for corporations will increase to more than $600 million in this budget.

“However, the governor does not see his choices as the problem – he prefers to demonize the hard-working men and women who provide essential services to the people of this state.

“Let me be absolutely clear: NJEA is fully committed to ensuring the state meets its legal obligation to fully fund the public employees’ pension system under Chapter 78. We believe the governor should live up to the law he promoted and signed.

“Keep in mind, if the state continues on its current trajectory, the teachers’ pension fund will collapse in 2027 – that’s just 12 years away. Are we really going to allow this administration to disobey a judge’s order and underfund the pension system?

“Make no mistake about it – the collapse of the pension funds will have a devastating economic impact on this state and on the men and women who have devoted their careers to working in our public schools.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The governor’s choices have not grown the economy – on the contrary.

“Since 2010, the governor has provided $7 billion in corporate tax cuts and future tax breaks, with no improvement to job creation or poverty reduction. His choices have enriched the wealthy at the expense of the middle class while stripping away valuable resources and services that have been the traditional equalizer between the rich and the poor in this country: a quality system of public education.

“As always during budget times, we need to make difficult choices. And these choices must set the state on a path back toward fiscal security – not just for the state’s fiscal health but for every resident of New Jersey. It’s time to find ways to increase the state’s revenue stream so that year after year lawmakers are not forced to shirk their obligations to middle class families and public employees.

“Once again, thank you for the opportunity to testify today.”