LILLEY: The Truth Will Out, Even as Murphy Tries to Bury It

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Gov. Murphy gave his State of the State speech last week and there was a lot of talk about New Jersey “leading the nation” in this or that, which tells you a lot about where Murphy’s head is.  But it’s what Murphy left out of his speech that is really telling. There were three large gaps in Murphy’s triumphant narrative: pandemic-related learning loss, public pensions and health benefits for public employees.

LEARNING LOSS:  To anyone who has been following the situation, it comes as no surprise that Murphy did not mention the massive learning loss for New Jersey students, particularly minority students.  Murphy would prefer that we forget he allowed schools in districts like Newark, Jersey City and Montclair to remain closed long after most schools had reopened, just as the teachers unions wanted.  Likewise, Murphy sat on the state test results from last spring, only releasing the full dataset in December after a great deal of public outcry.  Now we know why: fewer than half of students were proficient in ELA and only 35% in math.  But Murphy had nothing to say about this crisis – and it is a crisis.

More importantly, Murphy had nothing to say about his efforts to remediate the learning loss.  At long last, in December, he announced an initiative to recruit 5,000 volunteers, develop a central website and provide funds for remediation “over the next several months.”  Murphy made no mention of how this is progressing or some sort of timetable for its implementation.  Overall, there’s clearly no sense of urgency in addressing this crisis.  In a few months, an entire senior class will have graduated with unremediated learning loss and other classes will have fallen further behind.

Sunlight asks again: if Murphy has failed in his duty to educate New Jersey children, isn’t he a failure as a governor?  No wonder he didn’t mention it!

[Note that the NJEA didn’t mention learning loss in its statement on the State of the State either.  Apparently, the NJEA would rather be a “justice-centered union” than an education-centered one, and would much prefer to bury the truth about the learning loss it helped to cause.  Its silence about remediation efforts is shameful.]

PUBLIC PENSIONS:  In his 2022 State of the State, Murphy put pensions front and center.  Touting his making the first full pension payment in 25 years, Murphy added: “… with a strong stock market … our pension funds are performing better than ever.”  This year, Murphy made no mention of the pensions.

Why? As Sunlight has reported, after one down year, public pensions are in trouble again.  We estimate that the teachers’ pension fund is again under 35% funded, meaning that there are fewer than 35 cents set aside for every dollar owed to a teacher.  Murphy pumped $18.5 billion into an unreformed pension system for FY2021-23, which amounted to over 13% of state budgets that were greatly inflated by federal COVID aid and record tax revenues.  Just as his NJEA pals wanted.  But what happens when the windfalls go away?  Once again, Murphy would rather not discuss it.

HEALTH BENEFITS FOR PUBLIC EMPLOYEES: In his 2022 State of the State, Murphy touted the “reined-in cost of pubic employee … health benefits.”  This year, silence on health benefits.

Why?  Because Murphy’s signature healthcare reform – Chapter 44 – has not delivered savings and is costing property taxpayers more, not less.  Over the past year, it has become clear that Chapter 44 has resulted in 85% of school districts paying more for healthcare.  To make matters worse, in the fall, the state announced that healthcare premiums would increase over 20% for municipal employees. Because of the design of Chapter 44, most of these increased costs will be borne by property taxpayers.  How inconvenient for Murphy: in his speech, he touted his temporary property tax rebate plan, meanwhile his healthcare policies will lead to permanent property tax increases.

Hence, no mention.

Murphy did not mention these problems in his speech because he wants to bury the truth: he has not undertaken the hard work of learning loss remediation, pension reform and controlling healthcare costs because he has run New Jersey government for the benefit of his public-sector union pals, and particularly his biggest political supporter, the NJEA.  With his eyes cast on national office, Murphy looks ready to move on.  Meanwhile, these large, long-term problems fester.

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