GOVERNOR CHRISTIE'S PROPOSED FY13 SCHOOL AID BUDGET ILLEGAL
Governor Again Defies NJ Supreme Court Order
May 21, 2012
In a detailed analysis sent to the Senate and Assembly Budget Committees, Education Law Center (ELC) concludes that Governor Chris Christie's FY13 proposal for school aid violates the NJ Constitution, state statutes and a court order, and reduces the level of school funding for all districts, not just in 2012-13, but for the next five years.
The ELC analysis shows how the Governor’s proposed budget attempts to make permanent changes in the formula through the annual budget bill, by-passing the Legislature’s explicit role in reviewing and revising the formula in advance of the budget process and contradicting an express order of the NJ Supreme Court.
The letter sent to the two Budget Committees notes that the proposed formula changes are “unauthorized” under the school funding law and a “legally improper incursion” by the Governor upon the Legislative and Judicial branches. Because of these grave legal flaws, ELC is urging the Legislature to reject the Governor's proposal and work with ELC and others to develop and enact an alternative FY13 school aid budget that is fair to all districts and fully consistent with current law.
“We’re confident Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver – because they respect the rule of law and rulings of our Supreme Court – will reject the Christie Administration’s illegal school aid budget,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director.
In his FY13 Budget, the Governor proposes a slight increase in state aid that falls far short of making up the deep cuts imposed by the administration in 2010 and 2011 on most school districts. The Governor is also seeking to drastically limit aid increases to many districts and targets over 96 districts with a new round of cuts.
The Governor's FY13 Budget proposal is based on major changes to the education cost and aid amounts in the SFRA formula, without obtaining the Legislature's approval for these formula changes in advance of State budget deliberations.
The SFRA law requires the Governor to submit to the Legislature recommendations for changes to the cost and aid amounts in the formula by September 1. The Legislature then has 90 days to review the recommended changes, and can reject and recommend its own changes by adopting a concurrent resolution. The final formula changes then take effect no later than January 1 to govern the amount and allocation of school aid for the next three State Budget cycles.
Governor Christie refused to follow this process last September and, as a result, failed to obtain legislative approval for any changes to the SFRA formula. Even worse, the Governor – without the advance legislative approval required by law – went ahead and made radical changes to the formula in secret, and then used his so-called “modified formula” to propose school aid amounts and allocations in the FY13 Budget.
The Governor has not only “blatantly disregarded” the “explicit statutory procedure” for securing the Legislature's approval for major changes to the SFRA formula, as Mr. Sciarra states in his letter to the Budget Committees. The Governor has also again ignored a direct order by the NJ Supreme Court in the landmark Abbott v. Burke case, this time in the ruling issued last May ordering the Christie Administration to submit its recommendations for changing the formula to the Legislature under the process established in the SFRA law.
As a result of these obvious legal violations, Mr. Sciarra concludes that the Governor's FY13 school aid proposal “should be rejected outright by your [Senate and Assembly Budget] Committees on the ground that significant decisions relating to cost and school aid amounts in the formula must be assessed in accordance with the separate and distinct requirements in the SFRA statute, especially when those legislative requirements have been so cavalierly ignored by the [Christie] Administration.”
As Mr. Sciarra further concluded, the Christie Administration, by proposing a school aid budget based on unapproved changes to the formula, “appears to simply assume that it can act in a manner that disregards or dismisses the express dictates of the Legislature and Judiciary.”
In a related matter, ELC has also written to the Budget Committees to correct serious misstatements by Acting Commissioner Christopher Cerf in his testimony on the FY13 Budget when trying to justify Governor Christie's major changes to the SFRA formula. Mr. Cerf testified that the Governor's changes were based upon “the only experts” who worked on developing the formula and simply removed increases in funding added through “the sausage maker of the legislative process” when the SFRA was enacted in 2008.
In its letter, ELC provides the Budget Committees with detailed information and documentation to show that all of the final costs and aid amounts in the formula were developed by several sets of experts brought in by the Department of Education in 2007, experts somehow ignored by Mr. Cerf. As Mr. Sciarra states in his letter to the Committees, Mr. Cerf's statements “are an inaccurate and incorrect description of what occurred during the process of developing and enacting the SFRA, and suggest either that the Acting Commissioner is unfamiliar with the record or has chosen to misrepresent it as part of the effort to alter the formula through the budget process,” rather than through the statutory process of seeking legislative approval in advance of the budget.
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