Former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan last week filed suit against New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine and other officials to stop the state from borrowing $3.9 billion through school construction bonds without voter approval.
Lonegan is the New Jersey director of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative public advocacy group that promotes free markets and limited government.
Corzine signed the borrowing initiative on July 9, which will help the state meet a court mandate to fund school construction projects in 31 special districts. About $2.9 billion of the bond proceeds will support building schools in the so-called Abbott districts, while another $1 billion will help finance capital projects in other districts. The New Jersey Economic Development Authority sells school construction bonds on behalf of the state, with payments for the bonds subject to annual appropriation.
The suit was filed in Bergen County Superior Court on Monday. Seth Grossman of Grossman and Loefflad Esqs. serves as legal counsel for Lonegan.
Lonegan previously filed suit against state officials in 2000 when then-Gov. Christie Whitman signed into law $8.6 billion of school construction bonds without voter approval. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled against Lonegan in a 3-to-4 decision.
While no new law has been enacted since then that would support Lonegan’s claim to require a referendum, the new suit claims that certain points made in the majority opinion in the Whitman suit do not hold true today. They include the court’s decision that the $8.6 billion of debt was one-of-a-kind, that the large borrowing would be sufficient to upgrade New Jersey’s neediest schools, and that there would be uncertainty in the bond markets if the state did not follow through with the bonding.
“I have no law that’s any different than was five years ago,” Grossman said. “But we are pointing out that all the assumptions made by the court five years ago turned out to be wrong,”
Also named in the suit are state Treasurer David Rousseau, education commissioner Lucille Davy, and the EDA.
The $3.9 billion of borrowing for school infrastructure could be the final piece of state-backed borrowing without voter consent. In November, New Jersey voters will weigh in on whether to amend the state constitution and restrict all state-backed borrowing not secured via a dedicated revenue stream to referendum. That would include state-level issuance and borrowing by state authorities.