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Archive for February, 2010

BREAKING: BOE rejects referendum plan

Posted by edison1205 on February 22, 2010

We are told by a friend who was at the Board of Ed. meeting tonight that the $137 million referendum was voted down by the Board.  However, the preliminary budget was approved, with everyone there — board, administration and public — all realizing that the numbers in it are entirely meaningless.  We are not sure of the vote margin, or of who voted yes or no, on either proposal.

So to recap: There will be no referendum redux, no rerun of the revolting recommendation to the rabble that they return to the polls this April to review and then rule on this request.  For now, this reasonless referendum is resting in peace.


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Board of Education budget; candidate deadline approaches

Posted by edison1205 on February 20, 2010

Monday promises to be an interesting school board meeting as the Board considers a preliminary budget for next school year and decides whether to seek voter approval a second time on the $137 million renovation referendum that failed last month  by a 2-1 margin.  Looking at this document, the budget is on page 17 and the referendum is on pages 18-20.

Analysis: Next Year’s Budget

The current year budget is $203.009 million including debt service.  The preliminary budget calls for a total budget of $214.173 million including debt service, an increase of 5.5 percent.

In addition, the current year budget raises $177.369 million from local taxes, whereas the proposed preliminary budget raises $186.262 million from local property taxation, an increase of 5 percent.  (Note: this does not mean that the school taxes will necessarily go up 5 percent, this is just a calculation of the school budget total actually raised from property taxes).

The budget has some numbers in it that we consider mystifying.  The Governor warned earlier this week that “districts should prepare for a 15-percent cut in state aid next school year.”

We know that Edison expects $22.135 million in state aid from all sources for the current 2009-10 school year.  This will be reduced by $118,000 if the Governor’s executive order freezing school funds is upheld by the courts.

However, the tentative budget for next year anticipates $23.543 million in state aid from all sources!  That is a 6 percent increase made just after the Governor said to expect a 15 percent decrease.  Unless we have really goofed in our addition of the figures in the public documents cited above, this seems nonsensical and we hope the Board is questioned on this point at Monday’s meeting.  This may simply be the first move in an eventual game of ‘blame the State.’  In other words, it may be easier politically to stay away from rational planning now and blame the State for additional layoffs, additional tax increases, or the like.

It’s going to be interesting to see whether the three board members whose terms are up in April — Susan Scerbo, Ralph Errico and Rosemary Meade — vote for or against this preliminary budget.

Analysis: Referendum Redux

The Board will also decide whether to ask the voters to approve a $137.1 million referendum for school renovation and expansion.  This was the same question that the voters overwhelmingly defeated in January by a margin of 2,460-4,987 (which is 33%-67%).

On the one hand, I am glad to see the Board will be putting this question to the people at a regularly-scheduled school election.  This means there will be no additional costs to the taxpayers like the $50,000 we spent on the special election.  However, the educators on the Board and in the administration do not seem to have learned the two lessons the voters taught them last time: first, we need a less ambitious project that costs less; and second, that we need real guarantees from the State that the “State Aid” portion of the debt is secured by a binding guarantee that cannot be revoked and that is enforceable in Court.  I see no evidence that this guarantee has been issued.

I don’t think the Board has any illusions about whether this vote will pass: clearly, it will not.  But when voters reject an identical referendum twice, the Board can appeal to State Acting Education Commissioner Bret Schundler to override the voters.  In other words, all the Board can really expect from the vote is that will have the right to appeal to the State.

Who will support this?  In particular, will the three board members whose terms are up in April — Susan Scerbo, Ralph Errico and Rosemary Meade — vote for or against this effort?

Urgent reminder: School Board Petitions

If you want to run for School Board, you have to file your petitions by 4pm on March 1.  Here is the candidate packet.

I hope that this year there will not be tons of candidates running out of vanity.  There need to be two competing slates: the status quo, and the reformers.  If there are 8, 10, or more ‘reformer’ candidates, the only thing that will happen is that the vote will be split.  If the candidates’ real goal is reform and not ego-stroking, the reformers need to agree on a diverse slate of 3 and only 3 candidates to run as the reformers.

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Buono says Christie has declared “martial law” in budget measures (updated 2x)

Posted by edison1205 on February 12, 2010

This post is updated to reflect new links from the governor’s page providing further details on his proposed budget cuts.

Has Republican governor Chris Christie effectively declared war on New Jersey’s middle class and working families in his speech of Feb. 11?  State Senator Barbara Buono, who represents Edison, says that the governor’s unilateral plans in his executive order are equivalent to “martial law.”  For his part, Gov. Christie denies being a usurper, and claims, “I am not a dictator.

Below are some questions and answers about the process and substance his budget announcements.

Q.           Is the governor’s declaration of a fiscal “emergency” legal?

A.            Probably not.  The Governor cites the “Disaster Control Act, N.J.S.A. App.A:9-30 et seq.” as grounds for the emergency.  But that law is very limited; it defines “emergency” as meaning only a “disaster” or a “war emergency,” specifically:

(1)  “Disaster”  shall mean any unusual incident resulting from natural or unnatural causes which endangers the health, safety or resources of the residents of one or more municipalities of the State, and which is or may become too large in scope or unusual in type to be handled in its entirety by regular municipal operating services.
.  .  .

(3)  “War emergency”  shall mean and include any disaster occurring anywhere within the State as the result of enemy attack or the imminent danger thereof.

A:9-33.1.  Past spending decisions, even if unwise, are neither a “disaster” nor a “war emergency” as the law defines those terms.  If his plans are challenged in court — and they will be — no one knows whether a judge will sign off.

Q.           OK.  It’s not as if this is the first time a Republican chief executive has been accused of overreaching by claiming emergency powers.  But doesn’t state government have the power to balance the budget if tax revenues fall short?

A.            Yes.  Another state law says that in the case of “extravagance, waste or mismanagement,” the Governor can halt payouts by an agency of state government that are not “in the best interests of the State.”

More importantly, though, budget cutting is a legislative function in a democracy, and the Legislature can and must make the decisions on how spending is reduced.  They cannot be unilateral decisions of the Governor.

Q.           Has the Governor made any findings of “extravagance, waste or mismanagement”?

A.            His speech on Feb. 11 referred to “375 different state programs” he was cutting. Further detail can be found in this document entitled “FY2010 Budgt [sic] Solutions as A Foundation For Reform.”  Still, it’s hard to find items where he is making a specific finding of extravagance, waste or mismanagement.

Q.           Let’s turn to some of the specific cuts Christie is proposing.  What I want to know is this: even if his cuts were legal, are they wise?  Let’s start with public schools.

A.            Christie proposes to cut school aid from now through June 30 by $475 million, making schools use their reserve  funds to make up the difference.

Q.           Let me see if I understand this: schools collected local taxes, including “rainy day” funds, and now the Governor want to withhold the same amount of state aid, and punish overburdened property taxpayers twice?  Maybe I misunderstood, because that’s inane.

A.            But that is exactly what the governor proposes.  Some think this will mean more property taxes and will cause bond ratings to go down.

Q.           Wow.  Well, at least I’m thankful that he’s not cutting college and university funding.  After all, during the campaign, he promised to “increase funds for higher education” as Governor and reiterated that agenda after winning the election.

A.            Yeah . . . not so fast, college boy!  He is cutting higher education by $62 million.

Q.           My G-d!  What other programs important to me, my family, and my neighbors, is he cutting?

A.            Do you use a train, bus, or light rail?  Well, you’re now at risk of service cuts or fare increases of 20-30%, or both!

Like clean air, or clean water?  Tough!  The State’s leading environmental advocate, Dave Pringle, criticized the decision to Governor’s proposal to “dilute clean energy funds.”

Q.           What do our U.S. senators and Congresspersons have to say about this?

A.            Leonard Lance, who represents parts of North Edison, showed up at the Feb.11 budget address.  He had favorable things to say about Christie’s moves against education, colleges and universities, mass transit, and other services that working families need.

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BREAKING NEWS: Spicuzzo will not seek re-election (updated)

Posted by edison1205 on February 10, 2010

Politicker is reporting that due to health reasons and recent political losses, sheriff Joe Spicuzzo will not be seeking re-election.  Story here.  He had claimed, as recently as January 13, that he would be running.

Freeholder Mildred Scott reportedly is one of the contenders to run instead of Spicuzzo.  Another interested candidate is freeholder James Polos of Highland Park.

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Snow ends (updated 2x)

Posted by edison1205 on February 4, 2010

UPDATE 6PM Saturday, Feb. 6.  Snow has ended, with maybe 4-5 inches near my house.  A mere 60 miles away in Philly, they got 28 inches.  Sounds like Public Works has done their usual good job with the streets.  The clock is ticking on sidewalk shoveling, though.  As I mentioned below, I really hope that for this storm people do what the law requires of them.


UPDATE 9PM Friday, Feb. 5 — the Big News continues to be the snowstorm.   The National Weather Service’s latest estimate is now predicting about 7 inches for the Edison area, though more — or less — is entirely possible.  We continue to be under a Winter Storm Warning.  This is far better than areas like DC/Baltimore, which are forecast to get 20-30 inches by the time the storm winds down.  Snowfall should end around 3pm tomorrow.

Stay safe, stay warm!


Middlesex County is under a winter storm warning beginning at 6pm tomorrow.  The current forecast calls for the snow to begin sometime during the afternoon, with 8-12 inches expected by the time the snow ends Saturday evening.

We’ll post updates to this if the weather-guessers’ forecasts change.

Township code § 19-2 calls for the owners, occupants, or tenants of property to have abutting sidewalks cleared of snow within 12 daylight hours after the snow falls.  Failure to do can result in a summons or fine, or the township can clear the snow and bill the owner in the same way that taxes are collected.

We’ll post updates to this if the township code changes. 🙂

As this is not the first snow of the season, hopefully people will understand and comply with this requirement.  And if they don’t, I hope the township will enforce its ordinances.  Finally, I hope the township won’t burden the snow shovelers by plowing the snow onto the sidewalk.

But during the storm, let’s all enjoy the beauty and silence that the soft snowflakes will bring us.

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