In many districts Tuesday, the governor made himself heard as 54 percent of the spending plans were rejected, according to unofficial returns. If the trend continues, it would mark the most budget defeats in New Jersey since 1976, when 56 percent failed. Typically, voters approve more than 70 percent of the school budgets.Ah yes, it's the state dumping the issues on the local level? Really? State spending has been out of control, but so has spending at the local level and property taxes are the primary way that localities raise revenues. The state tacks on millions more to the local budgets to fund education and the state simply doesn't have any money. Neither do the localities, which is why so many of them are busy raising taxes again.
Key districts where budgets failed yesterday included Edison, Parsippany, Bridgewater-Raritan and Woodbridge. Budgets passed in Mountain Lakes, Piscataway, Livingston and Jersey City.
In wealthy Somerset County, voters defeated 15 of 17 spending plans; in Hunterdon County, 23 of 28 budgets failed. In the governor’s hometown, Mendham Township, the budget was narrowly approved.
Jeffrey Brookner, president of the Bridgewater-Raritan school board, said "lots of factors played into the defeat. One of those factors is the role that the governor played."
Voter turnout was also high in elections that typically draw little interest. In Sparta, where turnout rivaled some presidential elections, the budget was defeated by roughly a 3-to-1 margin. Sparta teachers agreed to a one-year wage freeze late last week, but the budget still called for a nearly 10 percent tax increase for residents in the Sussex County community.
"I think the governor’s rhetoric hurt us. The governor dumping all of the state issues on the local level hurt us," Superintendent Thomas Morton said. "It’s going to be a long, hard road. We’ll start to work tomorrow."
Consider that Sparta election. You've got teachers agreeing to a 1 year wage freeze, but the budget still sought to impose a 10% tax hike to balance their budget. Where are the cost controls and elimination of wasteful practices? That speaks volumes to the costs involved and just how little fiscal responsibility is involved here where the solution to solve local budgeting issues is to raise taxes.
Gov. Christie is right to demand more fiscal accountability from the local level, and many voters responded by rejecting the budgets.
The problem now is that the rejected budgets go to some of the same people who proposed them in the first place to come up with a fix. That means that we'll likely still see major tax hikes and lots more griping about the governor even though the problem has to do with unaffordable spending that has gone on for far too long and that the bill has come due.
It is possible that some budgets were rejected not because the voters were tired of paying more taxes, but because the education budget components weren't high enough - they didn't want to see the cuts made resulting from a loss of state aid.
Here's the thing though - now that state aid component has been cut from so many local budgets, the localities can no longer expect for state assistance to pay for education. It will be up to the individual districts to determine their budgets based on what their constituents want and with voters in a largely sour mood over higher taxes, we might start seeing more cost controls imposed on local budgets.
A majority of Bergen county districts approved their budgets, but Teaneck voters rejected their budget in heavy turnout for the second straight year. That led Teaneck High School students to walk out of class this morning to protest the rejected budget, which included an increase in property taxes by 8%. Given that most taxpayers are seeing their salaries remain flat while other costs continue rising (like the NJ Transit commuter and train fares increasing 25%), they decided that the tax hikes were a step too far. However, the budget figures provided by The Record claim that the state aid portion declined by $6.5 million, even though the accompanying chart shows a decline by $3.5 million, that was made up in part by the 8% property tax hike. Overall spending was just under $500,000 less than last fiscal year.