Christie Holds Forum on Proposed ‘Fairness Formula’

This year’s budget negotiations don’t include next year’s school funding formulas. And Gov. Chris Christie’s campaigning hard for his. Because his radical plan to give every student equal aid, instead of giving kids in struggling districts more, would require amending the constitution. But that wasn’t the only thing on his agenda today. NJTV News Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron is at the governor’s forum in Wall.

Aron: Mary Alice, that was the prime thing on his agenda today but here at an hour and a half town hall on Chris Christie’s new school funding formula, someone in the audience asked him about last night’s deal on the Transportation Trust Fund. Since he negotiated this surprising new compromise with Vincent Prieto, it’s not surprising that he sounded like he’s in favor of it. Here’s a little of what he had to say:

Christie: And for the average person in New Jersey, a 1 percent cut in the sales tax saves you about $465 a year. An increased gas tax of that amount costs you, for the average driver who drives about between 11,000 and 12,000 miles a year, which is the average in New Jersey, and the average miles per gallon in New Jersey is about 24 miles per gallon. So it would cost the average driver in New Jersey about $200 a year. So I said, listen, if we’re going to raise their taxes, I want to give them a tax cut on the other side. So it’s about a $200 tax increase for a $465 tax cut on the other side. You all deserve to have your expenses lowered a little bit. And here’s the last piece of the gas tax. It’s constitutionally dedicated to only transportation, so we can’t spend it on anything else. It’s got to be just roads.

Aron: Now other than that brief exchange, this forum here was entirely devoted to the Fairness Formula as Gov. Christie calls it and as you outlined, it involves equal state aid of about $6,600 per pupil for every student in the state, breaking with a 30-year tradition of sending more money to the 31 special needs districts. The governor had a big banner behind him today that said “Fairness Formula, Join the Movement”. Here’s a little of his argument for it:

Christie: We have to think this way. That every child in this state is our child. We’re paying enough for them. It’s almost like we are. Every child in this state is our child. And for your own child, if they were in a school with a 66 percent graduation rate and you had any way of getting them out and getting them someplace better, you’d get them out. We have a way to fix this. And to lower your taxes at the same time. It’s not a bad deal. It’s going to mean breaking some china. It’s going to mean making some people uncomfortable. Well, I’d rather have people uncomfortable than have them failed.

Aron: Now Christie wasn’t the only one talking school funding today. Senate President Steve Sweeney went to two North Jersey urban municipalities to lobby for his own school funding plan, which involves setting up Blue Ribbon Commission for a year, promises full funding of the existing formula. Gov. Christie’s formula is not very popular in the cities. It wasn’t very popular with some of the people who participated in a roundtable with Sweeney this morning in Paterson.

Paterson Mayor Jose Torres: The current bill as being proposed by the governor, it really signifies separate but equal. Rosie put it very clearly. Equal doesn’t mean equitable. And so, this is another example of where the urban centers where the concentration of black and brown exists will actually suffer under this at a time that we really can’t afford it.

Paterson Board of Education President Chris Irving: I will be the person here to say, and I’ll be very frank with you that the governor’s proposed policy bill is inherently biased. Inherently biased and biased on racial lines. It seeks to pit brown and black people against those who are not brown and black and I’m sorry, but that is the true reality of where we are.

Sweeney: Paterson gets 3,000 to 4,000 more students and they don’t get any funding for them. How do you educate children when you don’t get the funding?

Aron: What’s wrong with the governor’s formula?

Sweeney: We just disagree. What I’m talking about, Michael, isn’t urban, suburban. It’s all of them. There’s going to be winners in the suburban areas, there’s going to be losers in the suburban areas. There’s going to be winners in the urban areas, there’s going to be losers in the urban areas. But what’s right about my formula is it gets everyone to 100 percent funding. And you know, we’re always arguing and pitting the urbans against suburbans and rural against… Everyone’s pitting themselves against each other. There’s no need to. We have a formula that is constitutional if we run it properly. And we can absolutely get to a full funding formula in five years.

Aron: So Sweeney is pushing a plan he announced about two or three weeks ago. Christie kind of stole his thunder a little last week with this Fairness Formula. But the Fairness Formula has already been called dead on arrival in the Legislature. Urban Democrats rail against it. The Supreme Court might have a problem with it, although there are now more Christie appointees on the Supreme Court. And it’s a complicated sell. I’ve heard the governor try to sell plans at town halls for years. The many numbers involved in this one make it a little more complicated. I’m Michael Aron in Wall Township, Monmouth County.