This Week’s Trenton Musings….
Bramnick Calls for Real Bipartisan Work on NJ Budget Woes
July 18, 2014
Sometimes when a problem with business as usual is rooted deep enough, the best thing to do is to step back and attack it from a different angle.
That’s just what Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick has invited Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto to join forces with him to accomplish. Asm. Bramnick called on Speaker Prieto on Monday to form four bipartisan, long-range planning committees to address several issues that have been continual thorns in the side of New Jersey communities: education funding, pension and healthcare benefits, and electing legislators, among others. In the wake of the recent sham-showdown between Governor Christie and Senate President Sweeney over pension payments and the “millionaire’s tax,” Bramnick’s call for bipartisan cooperation is encouraging. But he also announced that he plans to initiate conversations with New Jersey residents, businesspeople, and elected officials all around the state to discuss these issues whether Prieto wants to be part of the plan or not.
Regarding education funding, Bramnick cited statistics indicating that the NJ Supreme Court’s power to decide how educating money is spent has not paid off during the 30 years it has exercised that power: “…nearly 6 out of 10 state education dollars go to just 31 school districts and the amount spent in these districts skyrocketed from $685 million to $4.5 billion since 1985, representing a 61% increase, even though student enrollment has decreased during that same time period. The average state aid per pupil in these 31 school districts is $15,261 while the state aid average for every other district is just $3,291 per pupil.”
State analysts also predict that 10% of the state’s budget will be needed in future years just to cover delinquent pension obligations by 2018. Bramnick wants to find a bipartisan way to mimic the success of the private sector and move state employees to a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan, calling such a step the measure of New Jersey’s seriousness about providing secure retirement to public servants like teachers, firefighters, and police.
In his press release, Bramnick also took aim at New Jersey’s death tax—the highest in the country—and the uncompetitive nature of legislative elections. He wants a constitutional amendment requiring competitive elections, and recently introduced a bill that would allow any New Jersey resident to challenge the New Jersey Apportionment Commission’s redistricting maps and submit an alternative one to the State Supreme Court.
Bramnick’s press release said that he plans to initiate these conversations with the public and public servants whether Prieto joins him or not, but remains hopeful that the Speaker will see his invitation as an opportunity to get involved in helpful change.
While we focus on family issues at the Council, it is impossible to turn our eyes away from the way that Trenton’s bureaucratic bloat is substantially, measurably, and systematically increasing the difficulty of living in NJ for countless families, from the greatest to the least. Assemblyman Bramnick’s proposals are obviously the fruit of sustained thought and experience, and they offer a hopeful new approach to problems that have proven extremely vexing not only to legislators, but especially to the people. We hope to see the Assembly take a deep breath, set aside past rhetorical battles, and set to work in earnest.