Governor Chris Christie can no longer claim that New Jersey is a model for bi-partisan governance that Washington should emulate.
Yesterday, Senate President Steve Sweeney, playing the role of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) before The Star Ledger’s Editorial Board, threatened to shut down New Jersey’s goverment if Governor Chris Christie doesn’t support a budget for the next fiscal year that makes the state’s payment into the pension system required by the “landmark” legislation that Sweeney and Christie hammered out in 2011, and that Christie has touted as one of his major accomplishments.
Lastly, let me share with you one more, hard truth that makes this new attitude of choice necessary for New Jersey’s future.
We have discussed many exciting opportunities for investment in our state. K-12 education. Higher education. Crime prevention. Drug rehabilitation and job training. Health care. Infrastructure investment. Lower taxes. Job growth. All exciting, all of which, done responsibly, could make New Jersey an even greater place. But here is the simple truth. We cannot afford to do it right now.
Because of our pension and debt service costs. For the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget, the increase in pension and debt service costs could amount to as much as nearly $1 billion.
That’s nearly $1 billion we can’t spend on education. That we can’t invest in infrastructure improvement. That we can’t use to put more cops on the street. That won’t be available to improve access to health care. And for those who would advocate for higher income taxes like the ones I have vetoed before, remember that the amount raised would not even cover the increase in our scheduled pension payment and would undoubtedly make us less competitive in the job market nationwide.
These are the consequences of failing to engage in an attitude of choice. If we continue in an era where we believe we can choose everything, we are really choosing nothing. We need to have the conversation now about further changes to our pension system and to adding further to the state’s debt load. But the time to avoid this conversation and these choices is nearly over.
If we do not choose to reduce our soaring pension and debt service costs, we will miss the opportunity to improve the lives of every New Jersey citizen, not just a select few.
I am ready to engage in those conversations and help, with you, to truly create an attitude of choice. The result will be a better, smarter, stronger New Jersey. The results from our refusal to choose – a weaker New Jersey with a middle class burdened by even higher taxes. That is an abandonment of our duty.
Centuries ago, a philosopher wrote that “choice, not chance, determines your destiny.” And this remains true for New Jersey today.
Our destiny is not set – it is the product of the choices we make. Our future is not set – it, too, is the product of the choices we make from this day forward.
So let us choose wisely. And let us not fail to act. Let us create an attitude of choice.
Christie concluded that we should choose to fund better schools, safer streets and creating opportunity “for every citizen, through an excellent education, a productive job, and a thriving community.”
If you want to understand what rule by liberal judges looks like on the state level, you need only look at New Jersey, which is teetering on bankruptcy though it remains one of America’s wealthiest states. ~ Steven Malanga, writing in City Journal
If you want to understand how, despite being one of the wealthiest states in the country, New Jersey is teetering on the brink of fiscal disaster, read Steven Malanga’s The Court That Broke New Jersey.
If you want to know why no governor or state legislature can reduce New Jersey’s oppressive property taxes, read Steven Malanga’s The Court That Broke New Jersey.
Malanga traces the roots of New Jersey’s tyranical Supreme Court all the way back to Arthur Vanderbilt, the first Chief Justice under the 1947 state constitution. In his opinion in Winberry v. Salisbury, Vanderbilt layed the foundation for judicial tyrnany by ruling that the court, not the legislature, has the power to make rules for the state judiciary.
That ruling set New Jersey’s judiciary apart from the court systems in most other states—as well as from the federal judiciary, which ultimately derives its authority from Congress. Some critics have even argued that Winberry violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee that every state must have a republican form of government. “Under the doctrine of Winberry v. Salisbury,” wrote New Jersey lawyer Anthony Kearns in a 1955 ABA Journal article, “we can only conclude that laws of practice and procedure are exclusively in the hands of men who are not elected.”
Malanga clearly lays out how New Jersey’s Supreme Court has taken over the state’s education policy and funding with no improvement in urban education to show for the $40 billion that has been wasted as a result of the Abbott decisions. He lays out the history of how the court usurped local zoning power with the Mt. Laurel decisions and COAH. He connects the dots in explaining how those two extra-constitutional power grabs have resulted in massive wealth redistribution, with no societal benefit, and an oppressive system of goverments.
Malanga stressed the importance of Christie’s promise to reshape the court with judges who will interpret the constitution rather than relating to it as a “living document.” However, he is not optimistic because of “…a Democrat-controlled legislature that’s often happy to dodge responsibility for heavy spending by letting the court mandate it.”
Hat tip to InTheLobby for bring this important article to our attention.
New Jersey’s Supreme Court ruled last week that the cash-strapped state must send another $500 million in aid to urban school districts — the latest in a long series of decisions disconnected from economic reality and wise public policy.
Over the last 40 years, Jersey’s high court has commandeered tens of billions of dollars of state tax money that has largely been wasted on schools, forced taxes higher and undermined the tax base of whole communities — in the process, driving the state to the verge of insolvency.
Basing its original decision on a vague clause in the state Constitution that says the state must ensure “a thorough and efficient system of free public schools,” the court made the state responsible for funding urban school districts — regardless of whether the money was well spent.
Courts in other states, including New York, have interpreted similar language to mean that states should provide more aid to urban districts. But Jersey’s high court essentially ruled that schools in 31 poor “Abbott districts” should be funded at a level equal to the states’ wealth iest school districts — making Jersey’s among the most expensive urban school districts in America.
Newark spends $23,000 per pupil; Camden, $22,000; Asbury Park, $27,000. Most of that money comes from the state — 82 percent of Newark’s school budget, for instance.
So residents in many suburban towns essentially pay for two school systems: their own, through local property taxes, and urban schools, through their state taxes — costing state residents a staggering $37 billion since 1998, according to estimates in The New York Times.
Even if this spending produced stellar results, it would be hard to justify this system: The steep property taxes it requires have helped make homeownership unaffordable even to many middle-class residents. But the results have been the opposite of stellar. As the education reform group E3 observes in a study of Newark, “Money For Nothing”: “Given the extraordinary expenditure on schooling, students are not receiving a meaningful education.”
Despite claims that it wanted to ensure “thorough and efficient” schools, the court has done nothing but feed dollars to a patronage-laden Jersey political culture.
For example, when the court ruled that Jersey had to spend heavily to build schools in urban districts, the state floated billions of dollars of debt through a construction authority it created to get around the requirement that voters must approve all borrowing. The court not only allowed the scheme — but when the construction authority proved so corrupt and inefficient that it only finished half the job with the money it got, the court forced the state to spend billions more.
The court has also reshaped the state’s map with decisions known as the Mount Laurel cases, by taking local zoning powers away from towns and cities and requiring municipalities to build affordable housing, often at great cost.
In one infamous case, it ordered the tiny township of Greenwich, with only 520 housing units, to add 810 homes, sending property taxes soaring. The burden fell especially hard on middle-income residents; later court rulings gave big property-tax breaks to the lower-income units.
The latest ruling has spurred Gov. Chris Christie in his pledge to remake the Supreme Court. Last year, he outraged the state’s political establishment by refusing to renominate Justice John Wallace, breaking with a tradition in which Supreme Court justices are automatically reappointed. The Democratic-controlled Senate refused to consider Christie’s nominee for the job, allowing Chief Justice Stuart Rabner to appoint a temporary replacement judge, who was the key swing vote in the decision to spend $500 million more in school aid.
That’s money the state doesn’t have — Jersey can’t even afford to contribute to its severely underfunded state pension system.
New Yorkers, beware. In 2007, the Empire State agreed to boost state education spending by an unrealistic $7 billion over four years in response to a lawsuit brought by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. But facing a $10 billion budget hole, Gov. Cuomo has cut education aid by $1.5 billion, prompting threats of another CFE lawsuit — even though New York still leads the nation in per-pupil spending.
The courts shouldn’t become a permanent substitute for our elected officials in managing state spending. As Jersey has taught us, when judges seize that power, taxpayers wind up big losers.
Steve Malanga is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute; his new book is “Shakedown: The Continuing Conspiracy Against the American Taxpayer.”