New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie Tuesday directed the Legislature to find $500 million of additional school spending in his fiscal 2012 budget after the state Supreme Court ruled that his proposed funding for schools is unconstitutional.
The Republican governor cut state aid to school districts in this year’s spending plan and in his $29.4 billion fiscal 2012 budget proposal that he submitted to the Legislature in February.
Fiscal 2012 begins July 1. Tuesday’s court ruling requires New Jersey to boost state aid for school districts in fiscal 2012 by $500 million.
Under its constitution, the state must sufficiently fund underprivileged areas — called Abbott districts — to match spending at public schools in its wealthier neighborhoods. The Education Law Center in June 2010 filed suit in New Jersey’s top court to stop Christie’s cuts in school funding.
The governor does not support funding the $500 million through revenue enhancements and has said he opposes new taxes or tax increases. New Jersey residents already pay some of the highest property taxes in the country.
Christie said he will look to the Democratic-controlled Legislature to find where the $500 million will come from in the fiscal 2012 budget.
“In light of the court’s ruling, it is now up to the Legislature to determine how the state is best able to fund the additional $500 million in aid to the Abbott districts … while also meeting the state’s other funding priorities as I proposed them,” Christie said during a press conference.
“I have complete confidence that the Legislature understands its unique constitutional obligation to send a balanced budget to me by June 30,” he added. “I am also confident that the Legislature understands its independent constitutional obligation to comply with the Supreme Court’s order in whatever budget they send to me for my consideration by the June 30 deadline.”
In response to the governor’s announcement, Senate President Stephen Sweeney said New Jersey should tap into surplus revenue collections to help fill the $500 million school funding gap.
Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff last week announced that the state will collect $242 million more tax revenue in fiscal 2011 and $269 million more in fiscal 2012, for a combined $511 million.
“As Senate president, I am committed to bringing all underfunded districts up to the adequacy standard, which will ensure proper funding for the state’s 205 underfunded districts,” Sweeney said in a statement. “Using the state’s windfall, we should provide additional funding for all inadequately funded districts across New Jersey. This will render the court’s decision a moot point.”
Before an Assembly Budget Committee hearing last week, Eristoff said the Christie administration aims to use the additional revenue to increase property tax rebates and add $253 million to the state’s fiscal 2012 pension payment.