Senator Declan O’Scanlon and Senator Michael Testa said Governor Phil Murphy and legislative Democrats have prioritized funding political pork projects at the expense of schools in their FY 2024 state budget proposal.
“It says a lot about their priorities when Governor Murphy and Trenton Democrats have slashed funding to nearly 200 school districts while building a massive budget surplus and funneling boatloads of pork to their cronies,” said O’Scanlon (R-13), the Senate Republican Budget Officer. “It’s ludicrous to suggest that we can’t afford the extra $50 million it would cost to protect every school district from budget cuts when it took us all of 15 minutes to identify nearly $150 million of political spending that’s being handed out to a favored few in the Democrats’ budget proposal. It’s a safe bet to assume there are hundreds of millions of dollars of pork in the budget, in addition to the $10 billion surplus, that could be better spent protecting our schools from unnecessary funding cuts that will lead to teacher layoffs.”
Governor Murphy’s budget proposal for next year cuts more than $150 million of funding to nearly 200 school districts across New Jersey. After districts warned of the dire consequences of the cuts, Democrat legislators responded with a tepid proposal that would restore just 66% of the lost funding.
“The remaining cuts will still be devastating to these districts,” said O’Scanlon. “There is absolutely no reason to not restore 100% of this funding while we work this year to fix our deeply flawed school funding formula.”
Multiple efforts by O’Scanlon and Senate Republicans to restore 100% of the funding were blocked by Senate Democrats last week.
“The insinuation from Democrats was that they didn’t want to give these districts back too much money because they are going to be hit with even bigger cuts in the fall of 2024,” said Testa (R-1), a member of the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee. “They’ve made clear that this partial restoration of funding is intended to do just enough to protect vulnerable Democrat legislators through Election Day and nothing more. Democrats have been surprisingly honest that they’re not going to provide relief to these schools once a new four-year legislative term has started in January. It doesn’t matter to them that we have more than enough money to provide long-term relief to every school district that faces cuts both this year and next. Republicans believe we need to fix the school funding formula permanently to address this unfairness going forward.”
O’Scanlon and Testa have identified nearly $150 million of pork spending in the budget (click here for the list) that could be redirected to protect school funding.
One Democrat town, Bergenfield, is slated to receive $25,000 for its Little League program and $25,000 for its Police Athletic League. Citing it as an example of the political favoritism that’s built into the budget, they said it’s unclear why that one town’s sports programs would merit state funding that’s not available to others.
Similarly, Middlesex County, home to the Assembly Speaker (a Democrat), is set to receive tens of millions of dollars of special funding not available to other counties, including: $20 million to fund a sports complex with cricket and rugby fields and tennis courts; $10 million for Middlesex Community College; $8.5 million for economic development; $8.5 million for other infrastructure; and more.
“Why are individual towns and counties represented by Democrat leaders and party insiders getting massive handouts in the budget while others with similar needs are getting nothing?” asked Testa. “If they truly believe these types of things should be funded, Democrats should support the creation of competitive grant programs that are open to everyone. Instead of distributing funds fairly, they’re selecting a handful of favored winners they represent to get loads of money while taxpayers everywhere else are stuck with the tab. If these aren’t critical needs, we should redirect this money to schools where we know it’s needed.”
Testa previously made the case that pork delivered in the current FY 2023 state budget should be reappropriated through merit-based grant programs. He sponsors several pieces of legislation that Democrats have refused to consider that would reallocate the funds through open and competitive processes.
O’Scanlon noted several additional examples throughout the state where favored Democrat towns are set to get special handouts, including: $12 million for a French art museum in Jersey City; $5 million for a community center in Pennsauken; and $5 million for a music institute in Elizabeth.
He also pointed to Deal, one of the wealthiest towns in the state — also represented by a Democrat senator — that is set to receive $250,000 to fund a playground at a private organization’s youth center and $100,000 to fund a ballet company.
“Art museums, ballet programs, and playgrounds are all great things, but should those be our funding priorities as a state when we’re cutting money to thousands of classrooms?” O’Scanlon wondered. “It doesn’t make sense to slash funding for art teachers while funding a French art museum that many students will never learn to appreciate. Trenton Democrats should explain to parents, teachers, and taxpayers why these are their priorities.”