Listen to audio version of this article
He may be known as “Jersey Joe” to some, but Joe Pennacchio likes channeling Abe Lincoln.
And he had the 16th president in mind Monday when he wrote to the governor complaining about proposed state aid cuts to two towns in his 26th District, Jefferson and West Milford.
The governor’s proposed budget for 2020-21 would reduce aid to both districts by around 15 percent each. Jefferson’s aid would drop from this school year’s $14.3 million to about $12 million next school year. Estimated aid to West Milford would go from $13.2 million to $11.2 million..
Pennacchio says these cuts would be devastating and is asking the state to rethink things.
Or, as he rather dramatically put it, “If there exists anyone in Trenton who wants to right this wrong, I would hope their better angels appeal to their sense of justice – restore these draconian cuts and unshackle Highlands policy so they can see to their own needs.”
Note that as long as he is writing the governor, Pennacchio didn’t miss a chance to complain about the Highlands Act, which most Republicans opposed when it was passed 16 years ago.
Interestingly, just a few weeks ago, bipartisan legislature to help the Highlands-area towns by reducing the sales tax in the region was unveiled.
Back to school aid, the state’s position is that aid is proposed to be cut to districts that have been “over-funded” in the past. That is clearly in the eye of the beholder.
Still, the facts are that total state school aid is projected to increase next by about $336 million. And, it’s also true that over the years, Jefferson and West Milford have received more aid than many of the other suburban/rural towns in Morris and Passaic counties respectively.
But it is also true, as the senator asserts, that deep cuts in aid can cause havoc in a school district.
It’s not exactly the Civil War, which was what prompted Lincoln’s “better angels” phrase, but one supposes there’s nothing wrong with a little poetic license.