Ciattarelli calls for new school formula to ease taxes
JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — Calling New Jersey’s schools funding formula “nefarious” and arguing that it leads to the state’s sky-high property taxes, Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli on Wednesday called for scrapping it.
But Ciattarelli, a former state Assembly member and small business owner, stopped short of saying exactly how he would change the school funding formula, which has been approved by the state Supreme Court and embraced by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.
Ciattarelli spoke in Jersey City in the foreground of a mirrored-glass skyscraper, which he said was home to high-priced condominiums that carried low property tax rates.
“We need a new school-funding formula. The current formula is nefarious. It’s arbitrary. It’s unfair and I believe it’s unconstitutional,” he said.
The state’s property taxes are levied at the local level and go to support local government and schools, but New Jersey also dedicates all the funds collected from the state’s income taxes to what it calls a property tax reduction fund — an account that the state uses to give aid to school districts. The aid is determined by a complex formula, which the state Supreme Court has signed off on, with the aim of providing students a “thorough and efficient” education.
Murphy, elected in 2017 and running for a second term against Ciattarelli this year, has poured money into the formula. It had been neglected and unfunded under his predecessor. Murphy has increased formula funding over the last nearly four years by $1.5 billion.
Ciattarelli said his plan could entail providing some amount of money “x” for every English language speaker, with more money “y” going to those learning English as a second language, and the state taking over special education from local authorities. English language learners would need more money, he said, because of greater educational needs.
“Let me be clear I will not leave any student behind. I will not leave any community behind,” he said. “It’s high time we challenge ourselves in this state to come with a flatter, more equitable distribution.”
The Republican’s announcement came the same day a Monmouth University poll showed him trailing Murphy by 16 points among registered voters. The survey among 810 registered voters was conducted from Aug. 11 through Monday with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Ciattarelli declined to address the polling gap Wednesday.
Homing in on property taxes is a political rite in New Jersey, which regularly ranks among the states with the highest real estate levies. The Monmouth poll found property taxes are a top issue among voters, with only COVID-19 edging it out.
Murphy has said that adding more money to the current schools formula has taken pressure off property tax payers and kept rates “in check.”
The average property tax bill in 2020 was about $9,100, up nearly 2% over the previous year, according to state figures.
Former GOP Gov. Chris Christie in 2016 called for providing equal funding per student as part of an overhaul of the funding formula. The plan never went anywhere in the Legislature. Ciattarelli said he believes his plan is different because it would pass constitutional muster.