March 15, 2010

Cuts in aid to schools and other programs are inevitable as the state faces an $11 billion deficit.

There’s no one in Trenton these days, at least anyone in touch with reality, who thinks that the state budget Gov. Chris Christie will propose Tuesday is going to preserve current state spending levels. It simply can’t happen. The harsh national recession that New Jersey is enduring, like every other state, means tax revenues are way, way down. For the budget year that begins on July 1, forecasts now call for tax revenues to be $11 billion below current spending levels.

Unfortunately, there are a few organizations in New Jersey that chose not to accept this reality. They think that if they just ignore the facts, peddle fear and keep holding up former Gov. Christie Whitman as the cause of all problems, then the world will be the way they want it.

We’re talking about the New Jersey Education Association, the union that represents most public school teachers in the state.

The union’s leadership has already begun attacking the governor and the budget he’ll present tomorrow. The NJEA is spending its members’ dues on a TV commercial featuring New Jersey’s teacher of the year, Maryann Woods-Murphy, decrying that some teachers are going to lose their jobs and class sizes may increase because of state budget cuts.

While the 2011 budget hasn’t been made public yet, it is absolutely going to have cuts in state aid to public school districts. It’s also going to have cuts in aid to colleges, to local governments, to hospitals for charity care, to nonprofits, to various state agencies, to assorted social programs, to grant funds, to parks, to . . . so on and so on. Get the picture. Everything is going to get less state cash this year. The state can’t spend $30 billion a year anymore because it’s not bringing in that much in taxes.

What should Christie do? Borrow billions? That can’t happen. The state has borrowed to the max already and its bond rating is in the toilet. Our debt is too high. And Wall Street isn’t lending right now, anyway.

What else? Raise taxes? No way. New Jerseyans have had it with the tax increases. You don’t raise taxes on people who are already grossly overtaxed during a recession. Christie is right not to propose doing so.

Cuts are the only option, and school districts, towns, agencies, etc., are going to have to scale back their spending. Maybe if districts got serious about sharing services, money could be saved. Don’t cut teachers first, cut the number of superintendents, assistant superintendents, business administrators and other back office workers by having neighboring districts share one set of top administrators.

Of course, doing all that won’t account for all the needed savings. There are going to have to be other cuts, especially because districts that care about their taxpayers should want to minimize property tax increases. New Jerseyans face the highest property taxes — $7,300 per person — in the nation, and most of those taxes go to the schools. It is the duty of school districts, in the midst of a recession, to make cuts and ease the burden on taxpayers, not add to it. Advertisement

The NJEA says shame on the governor for cutting state aid and shame on any New Jerseyans who don’t gladly accept tax hikes year after year. We say, shame on the NJEA for its out-of-touch, taxpayers- be-damned attitude.