NJEA Leaders as Thugs and New Jersey’s Options at the Ballot Box: Murphy vs. Sweeney, Toady vs. Statesman

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Would New Jerseyans rather have a governor who sucks up to special interests or a governor with courage and integrity? Our choices at the ballot box rarely split into such neat dichotomies but, if today’s news is any indication, we may have it easy in November 2017.

Today Phil Murphy, gubernatorial hopeful, released a statement that gives new heft to the concept of political pander. Parroting NJEA talking points and dissenting from the State Board of Education’s decision earlier today, he promised he would eliminate new PARCC assessments and end all high school diploma qualifying tests. Instead, he promised, N.J. would create “new and innovative tests,” “end student and teacher stress,” and save the state money because “computer-based tests have been proven to cost a fraction of PARCC.” Murphy failed to point out that designing new tests would cost mega-bucks, that meaningful tests would have to be aligned with N.J. course content standards — just like PARCC — and that PARCC is, in fact, a “computer-based test” that cost less than N.J.’s old and much-maligned ASK and HSPA tests.

Also today, Senate President Steve Sweeney another likely gubernatorial candidate, held a press conference in front of the Statehouse regarding the status of a proposed constitutional amendment, yet to be passed by the Senate, that would require the state to pay billions of dollars into the government worker pension fund. According to Sweeney, NJEA leaders told Democratic Party chairpeople that it would refuse to  “release campaign cash until next spring as a cudgel” to force Senate approval.  In addition, his office received a “direct threat” from the head of the Fraternal Order of Police.

From the Star-Ledger:

“These unions are no longer engaging in public advocacy issues focused on education of our children,” Sweeney said. “Instead they have made specific threats regarding specific legislative actions that benefit the pocketbooks of its members. These unions have made it clear that unless they get their way, they will deliver on their threats. Using political and financial threats to coerce public officials is an assault on the integrity of the legislative process and honest government. And it could be illegal.”

(Wonky background: in N.J. pension payments are determined on a year-to-year basis as part of the annual budget, based on various factors like prospective investment earnings. They’re legislative, not constitutional. The amendment would mandate quarterly payments of specific amounts.  NJEA and two other public unions sued the state last year for breach of contract in order to force full payments to the $79 billion Pension Fund but Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson dismissed the case. The proposed amendment is a way to bypass the ruling and make payments a constitutional matter.)

It would be easy for Sweeney to bow to union extortion and push through a vote on a constitutional amendment that could bankrupt the state (not that it would take much) and dramatically reduce its ability to fairly fund, say, public schools or bridge and road repair. Such an action on Sweeney’s part would win him union accolades but it would be irresponsible. The amendment was predicated on the understanding that the state would  increase gas taxes by 23 cents. But now Christie, brown-nosing the right wing of the GOP much like Murphy is brown-nosing NJEA, says he won’t approve the gas tax without other tax cuts.

NJEA’s  front office issued this: “NJEA has simply informed legislators and party officials that we are withholding support that we are under no obligation to give.”

That’s fair. It’s the job of union leaders to divvy up their bucks among favored candidates. And union members have every right to feel betrayed by N.J.’s fiscal distress and its inability to fully fund pension payments. That’s why we need pension reform — beyond the baby steps we took in 2011 — which NJEA flatly rejects.

Meanwhile, elections seem to be evolving into no-brainers. Murphy’s no Trump but the choice between a spineless groveler and a conscientious leader will be a breeze at the ballot box.

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  • StateAidGuy, August 4, 2016 @ 12:35 am Reply

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • StateAidGuy, August 4, 2016 @ 12:36 am Reply

    This isn't the only way that Phil Murphy is the biggest panderer in the race.

    Murphy says he has “no opinion” on tenure reform. He says he is against any tax cap (putting him to the left of Corzine) He says that charter schools should only open with BOE approval. He's effectively against even charter school choice, even though he's actually a private school parent. He says it is “100%” the state's fault that the pensions are underfunded.

    His strategy is to blame 100% of everything on Christie and propose fake solutions to NJ's problems. He attacks Christie for cutting spending and rebates in 2010-11, when every single state in the Union was cutting spending. He says that we can fully fund SFRA by eliminating corporate subsidies and says that our corporate subsidies have “cost” $7 billion, when $7 billion is just a long-term approval number, not a number for actual moneys refunded. He ignores the positive externalities of corporate subsidies for distressed cities and Smart Growth. He ignores that NJ is in competition for business relocation with many other states, who gladly offer their own tax incentives.

    Murphy says we can fully fund the pensions by cutting hedge fund investment fees, even though the fees are the $4 billion a year more we should be putting in and in the last two years hedge funds have beat the rest of our porfolio.

    He doesn't even purport to care about taxes. When asked about taxes, he says they are only a problem for the poor and elderly, and not the middle class.

    He says domestic outmigration doesn't matter because NJ's population is still showing a net increase due to births and foreign immigration.

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