News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
N.J. Governor Seeks School Spending Hike
Despite one of the toughest budget outlooks in recent state history, New Jersey's public schools would get $200 million more next year than they did this year, Gov. James E. McGreevey announced last week.
The Democratic governor's $23.7 billion budget proposal, unveiled Feb. 4, would impose cuts in most areas of state government. He said he would pay for the school increase by making fewer people eligible for a property-tax-rebate program.
Last year, taxpayers with gross taxable incomes of $200,000 or less could apply for rebates, and 1.2 million checks averaging $500 were sent out.
Gov. McGreevey's proposal would lower that cap to $100,000, making only 900,000 households eligible for the rebate, according to a spokesman for the state treasury department. Changing the cap would require the approval of the legislature.
Half the $200 million in additional state aid would go to schools, and half would be used to pay debt on the construction of new schools, much of which is taking place in poor districts where a court has ordered such improvements.
New NCSL Report Shows Surge in States' Deficits
A report last week from the National Conference of State Legislatures shows that some states are cutting education funding as state budget deficits have soared almost 50 percent since November.
The survey from the Denver-based organization calls the budget gaps "unprecedented." By the end of January, the report says, 36 states were projecting a combined budget gap of $25.7 billion for the current fiscal year.
The deficits have pushed nine states to reduce spending on elementary and secondary education in the current fiscal year. Thirteen states have made cuts to higher education.
Projections for fiscal 2004 don't look much better. Only Arkansas, New Mexico, and Wyoming are not expecting gaps for the next fiscal year.
"State budgets are under siege," the 30-page report says. "The faltering national economy, declines in the stock market, contractions in the manufacturing and high-tech sectors, and soaring health-care costs have combined to undermine the stability of state budgets."
Ehrlich Says Slot Money Would Help Md. Schools
Maryland schools would receive 64 percent of the $395 million that 10,500 new slot machines would contribute to state coffers next year, under a proposal unveiled by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. on Jan. 30.
The gambling revenue would serve as a major source of fiscal 2004 funding in the new governor's plan to boost school spending by $1.3 billion over six years. Mr. Ehrlich's budget calls for a $242 million—or 7.7 percent—increase in state aid to local schools.
Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican who took office last month, campaigned on a platform that advocated raising revenue from slot machines at four horse-racing tracks throughout the state, a plan that his Democratic opponent, then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, opposed.
Of the total $395 million raised in fiscal 2004, $350 million would come from licensing fees paid by the state racetracks, according to the governor's plan. The other $45 million would come from the gambling proceeds collected in the final three months of the fiscal year.
—David J. Hoff
Lt. Gov. Brogan Leaving To Head Fla. University
Florida Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan has announced he will resign March 1 to become the president of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
Mr. Brogan, a former elected state education commissioner, county superintendent, principal, and teacher, served for four years as lieutenant governor and often made education his focus under Gov. Jeb Bush, a fellow Republican. The lieutenant governor became active in the school choice movement and has been an advocate for Florida's system of tuition vouchers that allow some students to attend private schools using state money.
He also has been active in the Education Leaders Council, a Washington-based group of policymakers and officials that was founded as an alternative to the Council of Chief State Schools Officers.
Mr. Brogan will be moving to the university where he earned a master's degree and where his late wife earned her bachelor's degree. As of last week, a replacement for Mr. Brogan had not been named, but speculation centered around former Florida Speaker of the House John Thrasher, a close friend of the governor's.
"There is no doubt that our loss is FAU's gain," Gov. Bush said in a statement.
Vol. 22, Issue 22, Page 24