A noted New Jersey limited-government activist protested strongly against the report of the special master in the case of Abbott v. Burke XXI, which says that the cuts in school aid that were key to last year’s budget were unconstitutional.
In an interview with this Examiner, Steve Lonegan, of Americans for Prosperity/New Jersey, sharply criticized the “black-robed dictators, unelected and unaccountable to anyone,” who, he says, have provided a “bipartisan excuse” for ever-higher levels of taxation and debt for 40 years. (Arguably, this has lasted 35 years, beginning with the 1976 case of Robertson v. Cahill, in which the Supreme Court shut down the schools until the legislature enacted the first income tax, during the administration of Brendan T. Byrne.)
This decision is a continuation of the devastating impact that the Supreme Court [of New Jersey] has had on the fiscal condition and lives of New Jersey taxpayers for decades…This is why New Jersey now has the second-worst climate of any State in the Union for doing business.
Lonegan also stated that New Jersey has the highest property taxes and the highest rate of out-migration. This is a point that Governor Chris Christie has made, saying,
If you tax them, they will leave.
Statehouse Bureau correspondents Jeanette Rundquist and Jessica Calefati published these two reports yesterday evening, covering the release of the report by Judge Peter Doyne, the special master that the New Jersey Supreme Court appointed to examine whether Christie’s cuts in state aid to public schools interfered with the mandate, given in the New Jersey Constitution, for the legislature to:
provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of free public schools for the instruction of all the children in the State between the ages of five and eighteen years.
Doyne concluded that the cuts in budget interfere with that requirement, and furthermore that they:
fell more heavily upon our high risk districts and the children educated within those districts.
The “high risk districts” that Doyne mentions are the so-called “Abbott Districts,” 31 in number, that receive the bulk of all State aid to public schools.
However, the report contains this startling admission:
Despite spending levels that meet or exceed virtually every state in the country, and that saw a significant increase in spending levels from 2000 to 2008, our ‘at risk’ children are now moving further from proficiency.
Lonegan asserted that Christie, and for that matter the Democrats who control the Legislature, now have an opportunity to show the State exactly where they stand. He recommended three specific actions. First, Christie and his attorney general should thank the Court for whatever opinion they finally issue, and then commend to the Court the task of raising whatever tax would be necessary to carry out their mandate (a thing that Lonegan then said that the Court would lack the authority to do). This, as Lonegan also acknowledged, would recall the famous line by President Andrew Jackson:
[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it.
(Lonegan also speculated that Attorney General Paula Dow might not be pressing this case in the most effective manner, because her sympathies lie with the urban regions that would stand to gain more money should the State lose this latest case.)
Second, Christie and the legislature should pass and send to the voters a proposed constitutional amendment to clarify the “thorough and efficient system” section (Article VIII, Section 4) to:
- Eliminate any room for the construction that a “system of free public schools for the instruction of all children…between the ages of five and eighteen” requires a parallel system of pre-school instruction of children betwee the ages of three and five.
- Provide that the Abbott Districts should receive no bigger budgets than any suburban district, as a first step toward eliminating what Lonegan called a “redistribution of wealth” policy.
Third, Christie and the legislature should pass and send to the voters another proposed amendment to require all judges and Justices to stand for retention elections every seven years during their careers.
The Supreme Court is out-of-control, and Christie needs to take these steps to rein it is, or else Constitutional government is dead in this State.
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