Budget Committees Move State Budget Out of Committee, Bills Head To Floor For Thursday Showdown

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The Assembly and Senate Budget Committees moved the FY2018 budget bill (S-18) / (A-5000), out of committee late June 26.  The evening action sets up a vote by both chambers June 29, just a day prior to the budget deadline of June 30.

School Funding Improvements

The $34.7 billion spending plan came with some improvements over the Governor’s initial February proposal and legislative leadership’s initial school funding proposal as it relates to education funding.  Among these are the following:

  1. An increase in $100 million for schools currently below ‘adequacy’ above the Governor’s flat funding proposal;
  2. A decrease in the amount of state aid being reallocated from districts ‘above adequacy’ from the initial Sweeney/Prieto proposal (from $46 million as initially proposed to $31 million (changing a cap of 1.5 percent of a district’s total budget that was included in the Democratic leaders’ plan to ‘no more than 20 percent of excess funding, 1.5 percent of a district’s budget or 2 percent of state aid, whichever is lower’);
  3. An increase in $25 million for pre-school expansion that will go to 17 districts with at-risk concentrations and sufficient bandwidth to begin work this year; and
  4. An additional $25 million in Extraordinary Special Education funding

As for the ‘reallocation of dollars,’ (#2 above), according to an analysis of OLS data by Politico, of the 20 New Jersey school systems that would gain the most aid under the latest school funding proposal, 13 are in legislative districts represented by Democrats, four are in Republican-controlled districts and three are in split districts.  The gains were calculated as a percentage of the change in proposed aid when comparing the legislative leaders’ proposal to March aid figures from the state.  Conversely, of the districts that stand to lose the most funding in terms of dollar amount, seven of the top 20 school systems are in districts represented by Democrats, 10 are in Republican districts and three are split.

Even with the tweaks, Jersey City remains atop the leader board of districts that would lose the most in dollars, at $8.4 million, followed by East Orange, at $3.1 million.  However, for some districts, the reduction in proposed aid has been cut by more than half.  The Brick school district, for example, would lose $720,507 under the latest funding scenario — a third of what it would have lost under the Democrats’ previous proposal. Similarly, the Toms River Regional district would now lose $1.4 million, compared to $3.3 million two weeks ago.

The new spending plan passed the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee largely along party lines just prior to 9:30 p.m. last evening, even though members had only just received copies of the bill.  The budget bill cleared the Assembly Budget Committee almost simultaneously.

Showdown on June 30

What is unclear is how the budget process will ultimately be affected by the ‘Horizon issue.’  The Speaker is still concerned with any proposal that would change how Horizon is regulated by the state and at the same time open the door for the state to raid some the company’s reserves. That’s something the Governor has been calling for since his budget address.  Stay tuned as we move toward the July 1 deadline for budget approval.