State budget increases school aid $200M

McGreevey 2004 plan
to provide more to
schools and towns

Staff Writer

McGreevey 2004 plan
to provide more to
schools and towns
Staff Writer

TRENTON — There will finally be more money for schools and municipalities in the state budget.

In his 2005 Budget Address Tuesday, Gov. James E. McGreevey unveiled a $26.2 billion budget proposal and reported that New Jersey’s economy is on the right track because of the tough choices made during his first two years in office.

"Today, New Jersey is moving in the right direction. Our decisions have been guided by clear principals that have made us stronger," McGreevey said during his delayed budget address.

McGreevey was given an extension until this week to present his spending plan.

He had asked for the extension in order to cover a reported $5 billion shortfall.

McGreevey said this budget continues to follow the principles that guided the tough choices made in earlier budgets — protecting hardworking taxpayers, investing in the economy and education, protecting children and seniors, and making state government live within its means.

"As we have restored fiscal responsibility, our economy has responded with growth that is the envy of the nation. All of these things are happening because we made the right decisions, we imposed the necessary fiscal discipline and we always put the hardworking families of New Jersey first."

Despite the state’s financial ills, McGreevey said he was able to dedicate more than half of the budget to property tax relief, close a billion dollars of corporate tax loopholes and rebuild the budget reserve to $400 million.

And, for the third straight year, McGreevey said the budget is being balanced without increases in the income or sales taxes. He also said spending on government operations is down for the third straight year.

"We are on the right track, and we’re beginning to reap the rewards from two years of hard choices and tightened belts," McGreevey said. "For two years, we have made tough choices to meet the burden of tough times. We have asked for sacrifices, as we have demanded fairness."

McGreevey said in his address that $200 million more in state aid would make its way to the state’s schools. It is the first increase in aid to districts in three years.

The plan would provide $100 million to Abbott school districts and $100 mil-lion to non-Abbott districts providing a 3 percent increase in aid to every school district.

Another $15 million in special programs would make even more money available to schools.

That money will be placed into three separate programs under the discretion of the state Department of Education.

The programs would provide for $5 million in special aid to help certain non-Abbott schools raise student achievement, $5 million to 20 school districts that demonstrate efficiency and effectiveness in promoting high student achievement, and $5 million in supplemental aid to help fastest-growing towns cope with increased school costs

The budget also has money available to expand high-quality preschool to 20,000 additional 4-year-olds, launch New Jersey After 3, an after-school program that will serve 20,000 children, create the NJSTARS program to pay community college tuition for high school students in the top 20 per­cent of their class, provide $100 million to community college con­struction and renovation program to support job training for an addi­tional 30,000 members of the work­force, creating a program that will allow colleges and universities to meet growing capacity needs.

The proposed plan will also in­crease funding for state colleges and universities by $70 million, and double the funding for the technology tax credit transfer pro­gram to help high-tech businesses; half will be dedicated to compa­nies located in areas where busi­nesses need to be increased.

The budget will also expand veterans’ programs as well as health care issues.

State Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein (D-14) said Tuesday that she supports the theme of Mc­Greevey’s plan.

"Increasing state aid to every school district and municipality will be a much-needed helping hand for local property taxpay­ers," Greenstein said

Greenstein also said the plan will help those paying property taxes.

"Dedicating more than half of the state budget to property tax re­lief for the second straight year says that we are committed to eas­ing the burden on New Jersey families while we examine ways to attack the root cause of escalating property taxes," she said, adding that districts like South Brunswick should be helped.

"I support efforts to provide more resources for schools in fast-growing and non-Abbott munici­palities,"

Greenstein said the budget turned in by the governor, how­ever, often ends up as a different document.

"As we review the governor’s proposal in the coming months, we will exhaust all avenues to provide even greater property tax relief to New Jersey residents."