POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Lawmakers approve Murphy’s changes to school bond act

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Monday morning’s sessions in the Senate and the Assembly may have been the quickest ever. Lawmakers came in to pass one bill, which they did in about one minute in each house before adjourning.

“Get back to summer everybody, routine business,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said as he ended the session.

The bill is called the Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act.

It asks voters to approve a $500 million bond issue; $350 million for expansion at county vocational-technical schools and for school security at regular public schools; $50 million for advanced manufacturing at county colleges and $100 million to improve water infrastructure at schools with high lead levels in the water.

The votes were 34-0 in the Senate, and 64-0 in the Assembly.

“It’s an important bill. We need to make sure these facilities are funded and school security is real, and I think this is an important bill to make sure that we get both safety and a long-term plan in this area,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr.

Originally it was a $500 million bond issue just for vo-tech schools. This spring the Legislature doubled it to $1 billion and added the school security piece.

Gov. Phil Murphy over the weekend conditionally vetoed that and scaled it back to $500 million.

In a veto message released Monday morning, the governor said:

“I applaud the Legislature for identifying these critically important priorities … [But] New Jersey already ranks in the top five states in the nation for tax supported debt … [And] debt service costs exceed $4.1 billion in Fiscal Year 2019 alone.”

NJTV News asked legislative leaders for comment.

“The governor reduced it. I’m disappointed with the reduction,” lamented Senate President Steve Sweeney. “We really thought both issues needed attention. This is the last day to get it on the ballot and we don’t want to miss that opportunity.”

“Although this is not what our optimum wishes were, it’s the best we can do right now,” Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said.

When asked why he believes the governor scaled back the amount of funding allocated in the bill, Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick responded: “Maybe it’s the first signs of being a fiscal conservative. Obviously he’s been a big spender. Maybe it’s a political decision. I don’t really know. But it’s still money for school security and it’s up to the voters, so I’ll stay with him on that.”

“I do understand the level of debt. I’m very concerned about the level of debt. But there are certain things, like school security and education, that I think are important things that we would invest in,” said Republican Sen. Steve Oroho, a sponsor of the bill.

Vo-tech school representatives were on hand to make their case.

“Our county vocational schools, are in such high demand that right now we’re turning away students who want a career-focused education. This past year, 17,000 students were turned away of the 30,000 who applied, simply because we don’t have the space to house them,” explained Judy Savage, the executive director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools.

The votes Monday were to concur with Murphy’s conditional veto.

“I respect the governor’s opinion,” Coughlin said. “That’s why we’re going to concur with the CV. I think this is an important step toward making sure that schools are safer, that the water is clean, and to do some good things for vocational schools as well.”

So now it will go the voters as a ballot question in November. New Jerseyans have a history of approving bond issues that have to do with the schools.