Schools Funding fight: Prieto Swings Back at Sweeney

Prieto

Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) grew up on the streets of North Hudson, and learned early never to go into a fight without a sock knife, a Chinese throwing star or two, and the snub nose in the small of the back, or some such variation on those accoutrements, and now the statewide street fight features the formidable opposition of a governor and senate president.

The weapons aren’t blackjacks, fists and nunchucks but raw, hard numbers.

They love to vilify him, he says, but he’s the one who forges peace out of the exorcisms of political fiasco, he maintains.

“I’ve gone to war with [Governor] Chris Christie and turned around a deal on TTF [the Transportation Trust Fund],” said the speaker. “It was $1.8 billion [Senate President Steve Sweeney] and Chris Christie at $900 million. We ended at $1.4 billion. That was me. I was at $1.3 billion. I brokered the compromise.”

Now up against Prieto – as usual – in a schools funding formula taffy pull, Sweeney has enlisted the assistance of Senator Joe Pennacchio (R-26), according to NJTV. They say Prieto is not cooperating on creating a new fair schools funding formula.

“If you look at the speaker’s home base is Hudson County,” the veteran Republican senator told the public television network, a reference to Prieto, who doubles as chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO). “Some of these towns we’re talking about that have glaring examples of the inequity of the formula are from Hudson County. Hopefully we can appeal to the better angels in his nature.”

“At this point, the Assembly hasn’t offered anything to fix this,” Sweeney put in. “Now I spoke to the speaker. I’m more than willing to listen and talk about things. But listening and talking are fine. Doing is what needs to be done.”

The senate president wants to bring every district to full funding, which requires phasing down over-funded ones and lifting those that are underfunded.

For more of NJTV’s interview with the senators, please go here, but the gist of it, according to reporter Brenda Flanagan, is they want “more state funding for special ed students and abolishing caps on extra aid for districts with booming enrollment. Both want to reconfigure adjustment aid, which lets over-funded districts like Jersey City in Hudson County pay comparatively little into its school budget.”

For his part, Prieto said he’s not impressed by the tag team of Sweeney and Pennacchio.

“What is the senate president’s plan?” the speaker wanted to know. “Sweeney has put a commission together that would create legislation with the treasury, and it would have to be voted on. The bottom line is you have no idea what the outcome would be. He hasn’t offered anything.”

Prieto said he prioritizes adequacy, or the amount of aid the state is constitutionally bound to give to maintain a fair and equal education for all of New Jersey’s students. “We can talk about all this, but I’m going to talk about reality,” said Prieto, who says that as long as the funding is “above adequacy, I’m okay with that.”

He wants to give relief. He’s okay, he said, with getting rid of enrollment caps; and is willing to look at adjustment aid and special education”but it should be on an enrollment basis. It obviously needs to be addressed. Pre-K? “We need to look at it,” he said.

Christie and/or Sweeney can try to vilify him as they sort out a way to work with the governor on a new schools funding formula, but Christie dumped his numbers ($13.8 billion) on schools 48 hours ahead of the budget address. They can squawk to the press, but “let me see a bill or a draft,” the speaker said. In the meantime, “The governor came out with uniform funding, which is simply unconstitutional,” Prieto said of Christie’s original design.

In the immediate aftermath of Christie’s $35.5 billion budget proposal, the speaker said he favors “tweaking” the schools funding formula, which currently unfairly impacts schools in his own district, North Bergen among them, he acknowledged. He stands by that initial reaction, noting his concern about hitting behind-the-eight-ball residents in towns like Jersey City with exorbitant tax hikes. People in other parts of the state welcome Jersey City as an economic driver as New Jersey experiences the benefit of pilot programs, Prieto argues, but may be too quick to clobber the residents in those towns with too quickly taking on the full cost burden of schools.

Again, he’s willing to look at options.

“I am not an obstructionist, but what’s your plan?” he wanted to know. “It’s great to go in front of a crowd and rail on. He [Sweeney] needs a villain and I have a mustache so maybe it’s easy, but put it on paper.”

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  • Jeffrey Bennett

    Steve Sweeney’s plan isn’t Abbott versus non-Abbott.

    About half of the Abbotts are underaided, about half overaided.

    Of the 222 overaided districts, only a comparative handful are Abbotts. Many are rural districts. Many are at the Jersey Shore.

    Abbott versus non-Abbott was the dynamic back in the 1990s and early 2000s, but that is not the case today.

  • Jodi Hommer Fearon

    Prieto doesn’t discuss his close relationship with Jersey City’s mayor, Fulop. He doesn’t bring up the underfunded districts that have contacted him via Facebook and he has blocked them from is NJ Assembly Speaker facebook page because he does’t want the residents of New Jersey to know he is playing political games at the cost of our children. He worrys about tax increases for people of Jersey City?!? Where a million dollar home pays the same amount as i do on my $200,000 home?!
    He finally sets up a meeting with our Superintendent and has the NJEA invited to the meeting without informing the superintendent?!? Prieto is so tight with Fulop and so busy protecting Jersey Cuty’s overfunding that he is willing to ignore his own constituents who all have underfunded districts! How dare he say Steve Sweeney has no plan, his plan is the address the overfunding and give relief to underfunded districts! He should be ashamed of himself and he continues to hide from state residents who want this problom taken care of NOW!

  • Nora

    Another playing games. Crooks delight in unnecessary complexity. Income tax is constitutionally dedicated to reduction of property tax. Income tax funds should be distributed by child in the form of a Tuition Allowance. Social welfare needs, such as all medical aids, food programs, and other programs for the disadvantaged need tho have their OWN BUDGET, that does NOT come from income tax revenue. All our programs providing social support are sadly in need of FIXING. You don’t deliver poverty care and CALL it “education”. Tuition Allowances should be equal, by age, and portable. Other needs should be met via the Social Welfare Allowance, which takes all special needs into consideration.

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