By Art Gallagher
Governor Chris Christie is back on the Town Hall circuit…now he is calling them forums…as he meets New Jersey voters on Tuesday in Wall Township to promote the school funding formula that he announced last week.
The “Fairness Formula Forum” will take place in the Wall branch of the Monmouth County Library, 2700 Allaire Rd., Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. The doors open at 2:15 p.m and seating his first come first served. RSVPs are encouraged for planning purposes to [email protected].
Christie is saying that he wants a referendum in 2017 to amend the State Constitution so that State education funding is distributed equally to all school age children throughout the New Jersey. He says that the State would contribute $6,500 per student. Currently roughly 75% of State funding goes to 31 school districts, formerly referred to Abbott districts for the landmark Abbott vs Burke NJ Supreme Court decision that mandated that the State subsidize poor and urban districts.
Predictably, proponents of the status quo are panning the governor’s proposal abandoning the poor and proponents of property tax reform are praising the proposal as a breakthrough.
But the political reality is that the there will be no such Constitutional Amendment on the ballot next November when New Jersey voters will elect a new governor and all 120 seats in the legislature. Senate President Steve Sweeney won’t let the legislature vote to put the question on the ballot. He said so and there is no reason to doubt him. Fairness Formula will go the way of Christie’s Property Tax Tool Kit and his Supreme Court nominations. Nowhere.
With is approval number hovering below 30%, it is hard to imagine that Christie…who said he “doesn’t give a lick” about his numbers, can rally the public to put enough pressure on Sweeney or Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto to post a Constitutional Amendment for a vote.
There are plenty of Democrat legislators from suburban districts that would benefit from Christie’s plan that would get political cover by not being able to vote for or against it. Sweeney and Prieto protect their legislators and the NJEA money that funds their campaigns by not allowing Christie’s proposal to go anywhere.
Of course Christie knows this. So it is hard to figure exactly what his end game is here. Those of us who have followed him closely for the last seven years know he has an end game. It is just not yet clear what it is in this case. Most expect him to resign and move to Washington as a senior member of the Trump administration should The Donald pull off a miracle and win the presidency in November. Should Hillary Clinton win the presidency, Christie will likely complete his term and be replaced by a Democrat…Sweeney, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, or Phil Murphy of Middletown, Obama’s former Ambassador to Germany and a former Golden Sachs executive, are the top contenders.
If Christie is laying the groundwork for the Republican campaign in 2017, whereby the GOP candidate for governor and the entire legislature run a platform of fair school funding, property tax reform AND improving the results in urban school districts while spending less money of those schools…it’s a good plan. It would require a massive fundraising effort to counter the NJEA and the status quo. Christie could help raise that money, but it is hard to imagine such a campaign succeeding with him at the helm. New Jersey residents no longer believe that he has their best interests at heart.
The best thing Christie could do for New Jersey this summer is campaign vigorously for his Fairness Formula and then resign in September, after the deadline to trigger a special gubernatorial election this year, to run the Trump transition team full time while also campaigning for The Donald. That would elevate Kim Guadagno to the governor’s office and allow her, as an incumbent, and 120 legislative candidates, 14 months sell New Jersey voters on the idea of real property tax and education reform.
A commitment to a realistic plan for educational excellence in ALL districts, especially the failing urban districts, must be part of that plan.
Incidentally, New Jersey Republicans should follow my lead and stop referring to education money coming from Trenton as “aid.” “Aid” implies that the money is a gift. It is not a gift. It is our tax dollars being redistributed, at this point, according to the desires of the State Supreme Court. Republicans should start calling that money “funding.” That’s what it is. And the funding decisions should be made by the people as represented by their elected legislators and their governor.