Corzine is trying to make his decision to delay school aid payments more palatable to school districts by fast-tracking legislation that would allow districts to borrow money and the State to pay the interest. The Asbury Park Press reports that the bill was introduced Monday and passed the Assembly Budget Committee on Tuesday, “bypassing a committee hearing entirely.” The vote comes before both the Assembly and Senate tomorrow.
Reactions from legislators are predictable. Democrats defended Corzine’s decision to defer payments and Republicans threw tomatoes.
From Assemblyman Louis Greenwald, D-Camden:
Delaying a payment for which nobody misses a dime, for which all the costs are incurred, for which no school suffers a lost day, for which no school is closed a day, where teachers’ pay is not docked 13 percent as is being done in other states.
From Republican Budget Officer Joe Malone, R-Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean (quoted in New Jersey Newsroom):
Only in New Jersey government can you hear someone say that 19 payments instead of 20 is not a cut. We cannot continue to play the same game and repeating the same mistakes that have led to our current budget problems. ‘Deferring’ this payment is like playing musical chairs and when the music stops someone is going to be without a seat.
It all comes down to whether Corzine’s budget sleight-of-hand is an accounting gimmick or a loss of revenue. If it’s just a gimmick, everyone can live with that – after all, strange times call for strange measures. But if history is any teacher, districts won’t ever see the payment since the last time a payment was deferred was 2003 and we’re still waiting. Corzine and, by extension, the D.O.E, are flirting with a real credibility problem.
Side note: For an example of the credibility problem see yesterday’s Star-Ledger story on Roselle Park. The district made elaborate plans for a full-day preschool program for their low-income kids, per D.O.E. instructions, only to have the State reverse course on funding. Superintendent Patrick Spagnoletti remarks,
We already had the program all in place, and then we received notice in March after our budget had been struck that the plan wasn’t going to be funded. That’s why for one year, we can offer it to anyone who wants it for tuition.