Gov. Chris Christie recently wielded his veto pen to wipe out more than $900 million in spending passed in the state Legislature’s budget. A flood of press releases from Democrats condemning the governor’s cuts followed.
And state Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic) was among those expressing disapproval.
"In our proposal, we would have expanded school aid across the board and finally realized the promise of the 2008 school funding reform act by fully funding all schools – urban, rural and suburban. Governor Christie slashed school aid in this budget, preferring instead to extend a tax break for millionaires over funding in the classroom," Whelan said in a July 5 news release.
But Christie claimed otherwise.
"This budget is not only constitutionally balanced, but represents my commitment to education," the governor said in a June 30 news release. "This year’s budget managed to increase funding by $850 million and does so in a fiscally prudent budget."
So, who’s right? They both are.
Whelan's statement was included in a news release about the governor's line item vetoes of the Democrats' budget proposal and Whelan confirmed to PolitiFact New Jersey that his statement was about the governor’s reductions from the Democrats’ budget.
In that case, Whelan is correct: the governor did cut state aid for schools from the budget approved by the Legislature. But year over year, Christie increased overall funding for schools.
Let’s break it down.
The governor always fires the first shot in the state’s budget war. In Christie’s February proposal, state aid to school districts was increased by about $250 million over last year’s budget.
Then, the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered another $500 million in state aid go to 31 urban school systems, the so-called Abbott districts.
When Democrats unveiled their budget for Fiscal Year 2012 late last month, an additional $1.1 billion in state aid for schools had been added over the governor’s proposed budget. They also put another $412 million in state aid for non-Abbott districts in a separate bill that would have been enacted only if an income tax rate increase was approved for individuals earning more than $1 million. Christie vetoed both measures.
The increases in the Democrats’ spending plan also did not withstand Christie’s veto pen.
The governor cut nearly $500 million in state education aid from the Legislature’s budget. However, he left in more than $446 million in funding that will go to Abbott districts per the court order and another $167 million for other districts.
That aid, as well as the $250 million in the governor’s original budget proposal that went untouched, equals about $863 million. So, year over year, funding for schools increased.
Whelan recognized this when PolitiFact New Jersey spoke with him. "There’s more school aid than last year," he said, but argued that the aid still didn’t fully fund all districts.
As a spokesman for the Senate Democrats put it: the year over year increase "only tells a partial story, as the only districts being made whole are the Abbotts."
State Treasury Department spokesman Andrew Pratt said, "Everyone would like to see more aid for schools, however there’s a limit to what we can spend."
Let’s briefly touch on the second part of Whelan’s statement, which said Christie made the cuts in state aid for schools, "preferring instead to extend a tax break for millionaires over funding in the classroom."
Christie vetoed a bill that would have raised the income tax on individuals with incomes over $1 million from 8.97 percent to 10.75 percent for two years.
But is vetoing a tax increase a tax break?
PolitiFact New Jersey tackled this issue before and rated it half true.
Whelan said, "Governor Christie slashed school aid in this budget" and Christie did cut funds from the Legislature's proposal.
And although Christie slashed school aid in his first year as governor, he in fact increased school aid year over year from Fiscal Year 2011 to Fiscal Year 2012.
For these reasons, we rate Whelan’s statement Half True.
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