While New Jersey’s state budget remains in flux between the Legislature’s approval and the governor’s signature, one of the many loose ends is the removal of $30 million dollars that was initially added to aid Lakewood’s public schools and transportation for thousands of students in its many private ones.
While negotiations are still ongoing and officials have signaled an openness to finding solutions, the uncertainty has left both the district and mosdos on edge for the last leg of budget discussions in Trenton.
Rabbi Avi Schnall, director of the New Jersey division of Agudath Israel of America, told Hamodia that while the community’s concerns are being taken seriously, a concrete solution has yet to be agreed upon.
“Askanim are working with both the legislators and the governor to try to rectify this situation in a way that works for all sides,” he told Hamodia.
This past March, a budget proposal from Governor Phil Murphy’s administration gave a temporary means of addressing two of the town’s long-time concerns: its deficit-laden public schools and transportation for non-public school students. While he did not address the insufficient funding mechanisms, which advocates for Lakewood’s school district have criticized for years, the governor did offer millions of dollars, which would lift the threat that programs and staff would be slashed and would prevent what had become the all-too-common scene of a zero-hour appeal to state authorities for a loan.
The proposal also included language that re-authorized the Lakewood Student Transportation Association (LSTA), the private consortium that has managed busing for the town’s non-public school students since the creation of a pilot program in 2016. While this re-authorization has remained in place, the spending bill passed by the legislature last week cut the state’s contribution of $6 million to LSTA’s $21 million budget.
While talks are ongoing, Lakewood public schools have filed an emergency petition in court to preserve the funding proposed by the governor.
Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), in an interview with the Asbury Park Press, said that the cuts were due to a lack of explanation on the administration’s part regarding the need for the additional funds, but he signaled that he was still open to finding ways of addressing the matter.
The same report quoted a spokeswoman for the governor who criticized the cut and said the funds were essential to the district’s students.
The $30 million is likely the least of the governor’s concerns as the clock ticks toward the budget deadline. It also does not include several of Governor Murphy’s high-profile priorities, such as a surplus revenue fund and the “millionaire’s tax” designed to fund it. Following the legislature’s approval, Governor Murphy voiced his disapproval in a statement.
“The budget I proposed is a forward-thinking, honest budget that has been embraced by policy experts because it breaks from the bad habits of the past that led to a record 11 credit downgrades,” he said. “The budget the Legislature has sent us is short-sighted, foregoing our rainy-day fund deposit and leaning heavily on both questionable and one-time funding sources, instead of including reliable, recurring revenue.”
It remained unclear as to whether the governor would sign the Legislature’s version of the budget. A state spending bill must be passed by July 1 or the state would face a government shutdown.