BY SALVATORE PIZZURO
The eagerly awaited New Jersey Supreme Court decision left mixed opinions among lawmakers and citizens, not only Republicans against Democrats, but suburban school officials against their counterparts in the urban districts.
The court partially supported the Corzine administration’s School Funding Reform Act of 2008. The former Abbott districts will share 500 million dollars; the suburban districts, however, will receive good wishes and nothing more. The ruling was based on a 3-2 decision along party lines.
The Democratic jurists supported more funding, while the Republican judges did not. Justices Jaynee LaVecchia, Barry Albin and Edward Stern voted in favor of the additional funding, while Roberto Rivera-Soto and Helen Hoens provided the dissenting votes. Stern currently serves as a temporary Supreme Court justice. He was appointed by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner to replace John Wallace, who was not re-nominated by Gov. Christie.
Nevertheless, it appears that many Democratic legislators are as dissatisfied with the decision as are the Republicans. The Democrats are unhappy with the suburban districts being exempted from receiving more funding. The Republicans are displeased with the additional funding, in general.
Interestingly, the court ruling came on the same day as a hotly debated Assembly Budget hearing on the governor’s proposed cuts in Medicaid funding.
The remainder of 2011 will be contentious, as legislators continue the fight over school funding, Medicaid eligibility, women’s health care, and a multitude of other budget issues. Assemblyman Gary Schaer, who serves as vice-chair of the Budget Committee, has recently announced his disappointment in the way that overall state funding is materializing.
The governor’s proposed budget, Schaer points out, penalizes the working poor. According to Schaer: “This plan is both lacking in conscience and details. From what little we’ve been able to ascertain from the administration, it’s clear that they are once again intent on balancing our budget on the backs of our neediest resident … The only thing clear is that the Christie administration’s philosophy on balancing the state’s budget is one born out of a moral vacuum.”
It is time for the Statehouse, the Legislature, and the public at large to unite in an effort to solve this problem. Currently, the administration’s attempts at fiscal solvency include making tens of thousands of poor New Jerseyans ineligible for Medicaid services, and have more than two hundred school districts remain underfunded. Local communities now have a fraction of their police and fire personnel still serving the people. Crime rates are high, property taxes are higher, and access to health care has been challenged.
At what point do we determine that a segment of our population should be expendable in order to serve the rest of us?
Dr. Salvatore Pizzuro is a disability policy specialist and civil rights advocate in New Jersey.