It is no surprise that Tom Moran has again attacked the New Jersey Education Association. But it is unfortunate that the editorial page editor of the state’s largest newspaper has let his support of machine-backed politician Steve Sweeney blind him to the facts behind NJEA’s endorsement of Sweeney’s senate opponent in the 3rd Legislative District, Fran Grenier.
Let’s begin with Moran’s premise that the endorsement of a Republican candidate is somehow a betrayal of the Democratic Party. NJEA is, and has always been, a bipartisan organization. Our PAC endorsements are based on a strict set of guidelines that includes positions on key issues, accessibility, and other criteria – not party affiliation. Had Moran looked at our members’ 2016 and 2017 endorsements, posted on NJEA’s website, he’d have seen the Republicans we have supported.
Grenier’s positions on charter schools, private school vouchers, collective bargaining, pension funding and school funding all align with NJEA’s. Regarding school funding, Moran chose to repeat assertions directly from Sweeney’s campaign about Grenier’s position on the issue – statements that Grenier has repeatedly asserted were misquoted in another newspaper. Grenier has consistently said we need to follow and fund the school aid law enacted in 2008 with bipartisan support in the Legislature and, was endorsed by NJEA and other education groups, and was validated by the New Jersey Supreme Court.
On the other hand, as Senate President, Sweeney went along with seven consecutive Christie budgets that ignored the formula and essentially froze basic school aid, while boosting funding only for charter schools in recent years. When Sweeney finally woke up (in an election year, of course) to the fact that freezing school aid created gross inequalities and catastrophic underfunding in hundreds of school districts, he proposed a band-aid approach that raided 126 other districts after they had already approved their school budgets, staffing, and tax levies for current year. Sweeney didn’t even apply the funding formula he claims to support. His plan took tens of millions of dollars from students in districts where the budget was below the formula’s adequacy standard. Then, to salvage his ill-advised scheme, Sweeney did what he’s done throughout his tenure on so many issues – he cut a deal with Gov. Christie.
Moran also played down one of the key reasons NJEA members oppose Sweeney: his utter betrayal of all public employees regarding a proposed constitutional amendment to finally require the state to honor its pension funding obligations after 20 years of gross neglect. He quotes Sweeney as saying “I promised. I absolutely did. But things change.” For Moran, that shoulder-shrug of an excuse was enough to justify the betrayal.
It’s not enough for our members. The only thing that changed was Sweeney’s need to cut another deal with Christie. That deal was to pass the gas tax, while giving huge tax breaks to the wealthiest families in New Jersey as another Christie concession from Sweeney.
The reason such an amendment is needed at all is that Christie reneged on yet another bad Sweeney deal, a law passed in 2010 known as Chapter 78. Under that law, public employees saw their mandatory pension contributions increase by 36 percent while benefits were reduced. Additionally, they were required to pay a huge and growing share of their health insurance costs. As a result, the net pay earned by many public employees shrinks each year, leaving their families struggling to make ends meet and fearful of what next year’s decrease might be. It was, in effect, a huge tax imposed on public employees with no collective bargaining or recourse.
In exchange, the state was required to ramp up to full funding of the pension system, but Christie very quickly broke that part of the law, leaving all the burden and none of the benefits that the Christie-Sweeney deal was supposed to bring.
Is it any wonder that NJEA members think it’s long past time for a new Senate President? Eight years is more than enough for a politician who has cut one destructive deal after another with Christie, to the detriment of public employees, their families and the state of New Jersey as a whole.
Moran emphasized that Sweeney will be tough to defeat, citing the “South Jersey Machine” for which Sweeney is the top elected official. He implies that NJEA is foolhardy to take on such a fight.
Yes, this is a tough fight, and we are ready for it. But opposing an unprincipled and ineffective leader is not foolish – it’s democracy in action. Moran’s blind opposition to NJEA leaves him in the awkward position of defending New Jersey’s leading Christie-crat and cheering for machine politics to triumph in New Jersey. Our members have chosen a different, and better, approach in this election.
Ed Richardson has served as Executive Director of the 200,000-memeber New Jersey Education Association since 2013.