When Gov. Phil Murphy approached the Speaker’s podium in the Statehouse General Assembly chamber to deliver his first budget on March 13, one thing was certain: public employees in general, and NJEA members in particular, would not have to brace themselves for an anti-public education, anti-public worker tirade. For the first time in eight years, we have a governor who routinely praises the work of teachers, educational support professionals and all public employees.
Murphy did not use this speech to pit one group of New Jersey residents against another. Instead he spoke with optimism about what makes New Jersey a great place to live, work and raise a family, identifying our schools in the mix.
“We must once again promote our talented residents, our infrastructure, our schools, our location and our diversity—everything that makes New Jersey a world-class place for business,” the governor said as he questioned over-reliance on tax incentives alone to attract corporate investment to the state.
“I am as optimistic as ever about our economic future. New Jersey is blessed with tremendous economic advantages—among the most educated workforces in the world, a location 49 other states would gladly trade-in for, and top-tier public schools, colleges and universities, just to name a few.”
When addressing funding for the state’s pension systems, the governor talked about “our responsibility to our public employees,” noting that, “For too long, our public workers have been blamed for every problem under the sun.” Gone was the rhetoric attacking NJEA members and other public workers for seeking nothing more than the pensions they had earned and to which they had contributed throughout their careers.
Finally, near the end of his budget address, he again tipped his hat to public education at all levels: “I am as optimistic as ever about our economic future. New Jersey is blessed with tremendous economic advantages—among the most educated workforces in the world, a location 49 other states would gladly trade-in for, and top-tier public schools, colleges and universities, just to name a few.”
But kind words were not all the governor had to offer. Murphy’s words were backed up by sound fiscal policy proposals. His proposed budget is a responsible plan that invests in the state’s future and the working families who make our state strong. The spending plan laid out by Murphy takes a large step toward meeting the state’s current obligations while preparing to keep its promises for the future.
The proposed budget allocates $3.2 billion for pension funding, a move that will help to restore the state’s credit rating and restore confidence in the state’s commitment to meeting its obligations and its ability to do so. It begins a four-year phase-in to full funding of the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA). It provides an additional $283 million in K-12 school aid in this budget and ensures that no district gets less aid than last year, while providing 94 percent of districts with more aid than the current year’s budget.
“We must once again promote our talented residents, our infrastructure, our schools, our location and our diversity—everything that makes New Jersey a world-class place for business.”
Murphy’s budget allocates $57 million more to expand Pre-K, the largest increase in a decade. In keeping with another of his campaign promises, the proposed budget includes significant increases for higher education, including $50 million for tuition-free community college for families earning less than $45,000 per year. It also increases the Tuition Aid Grant by $7.5 million and the Educational Opportunity Fund by $1.5 million.
Of course the governor’s budget proposal is only the first step in a negotiation process with the Legislature that will likely take us through June before a final budget is signed into law. But it is a refreshing change to begin with a budget proposal that recognizes the importance of the role public schools, and the people who work in them, play in making New Jersey the great state that it is.