A need to reduce property taxes in New Jersey—and to restructure the school funding that drives those taxes—formed the centerpiece of Gov. Jon Corzine’s State of the State address.
In his Jan. 9 speech, the Democratic governor urged state legislators to pass laws implementing key recommendations that emerged from a special session on property taxes last summer. At $6,000 per household on average annually, the state’s homeowner taxes are the highest in the nation. (“N.J. Panel Eyes Changes in School Funding,” Nov. 29, 2006.)
To deliver property-tax reductions of 10 percent to 20 percent for all but New Jersey’s wealthiest residents, and to cap how much the levy can rise in the future, Mr. Corzine said, lawmakers must save money in other areas, such as having some municipal and school districts consolidate or share services. He noted that 23 of the state’s 616 school districts don’t operate a single school but perform other duties, such as collecting taxes to pay the tuition and transportation involved in sending their children to other districts.
He also echoed his call to renegotiate pension and health-care benefits for public employees, a prospect that already has brought unions for those workers to the Statehouse for an angry demonstration. Gov. Corzine offered no specifics on revising school funding and instead chose to repeat themes that emerged from the special session’s committee on that subject. Those included calculating how much a good education in New Jersey costs, adjusting that per-child amount for need factors such as poverty, and distributing school aid to children across the state “regardless of their ZIP code.”
That approach would be a departure from the one New Jersey has used for the past decade as a result of a long-running school finance lawsuit called Abbott v. Burke. A series of decisions in that case required the state to set aside billions of dollars to enable the state’s 31 poorest urban districts to spend as much on schools as do the highest-spending districts.
A version of this article appeared in the January 17, 2007 edition of Education Week