Thursday, March 9, 2017

Why Jersey City's Lawsuit Against Redistribution is a Good Sign

Mayor Steve Fulop and the Jersey City City Council have announced that Jersey City is going to hire
Up Until Now, Fulop has relied on Vincent Prieto
to block state aid redistribution.
a law firm to fight off any attempt to redistribute Jersey City's $420 million in state aid.

Before I get into why this is a good sign, let's have some backstory about Steve Fulop and state aid.

After state aid redistribution became a possibility in early 2016, Steve Fulop refused to discuss the subject in a serious way.

Fulop showed his immaturity in a series of petty attacks on Jack Ciattarelli, where when Ciattarelli said that Jersey City's economic growth indicated that its state aid needed to be redistributed, Fulop returned fire by bragging about Jersey City's economic growth.

“It’s easy for local policy makers to achieve tax reductions when the state subsidizes their services,” said the Assemblyman. “The fact is, fiscally speaking, we’re experiencing a very painful squeeze or crowding out effect with our state budget. Overly generous property tax abatements are one of the reasons why. These abatement are not only an exploitation of our state school funding formula, they are an injustice to property owners in places like Jersey City. In trying to solve the state’s problems, we need policy makers at all levels of government to take these issues seriously. In that respect, the statement issued by the Fulop camp is an embarrassment and a disservice – a disservice to the taxpayers of this state who fund Fulop’s school system.”

To which Fulop responded in a way that proved Ciattarelli's point:

“Jersey City had a tax reduction last year and just today we will adopt a budget without a tax increase. Jersey City has led the state in job creation just as we had a credit upgrade last year.

After that, Fulop switched tacks to refusing to say anything in public about state aid, but using his control over Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto to block reform.

His comments at this point were few and far between. By September 2016, according to Jersey Journal reporter Terrence McDonald, "Mayor Steve Fulop has declined several times to comment on Christie's and Sweeney's plans" other than to say it was a " long road" to reform becoming a reality and then another ignorant statement on how SFRA works "Urban education is very complex. I don't think in certain areas parents and cities have the same means to pay as in some of the suburban areas."

Which of course is an untruth regarding Jersey City. For 2016-17 Jersey City's school tax rate was 0.47, less than half of New Jersey's 1.3 average, so certainly Jersey City can pay more than that.

Over the next few months Fulop was again silent, but he used his clout with Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto to block state aid reform.  (even though Prieto actually represents several of New Jersey's most underaided districts)

Yet by February 2017 state aid reform had enough momentum that Fulop decided he had to say something and what he said was bullshit, claiming state aid redistribution was “clearly an attack on poorer, primarily African American, Latino and minority districts.” Fulop also gave a two-faced argument where he claimed that only Jersey City's waterfront is doing well (even though Jersey City is a single-entity from the point of view of taxation), even though Fulop constantly claims to Jersey City audiences that the whole city is thriving.

Anyway, after Steve Sweeney tore apart Fulop's arguments and Fulop's distortions were exposed again Fulop decided that what Jersey City needed to do was hire a law firm for $75,000 to fight off the redistribution of Adjustment Aid.

As Fulop spokesperson Jennifer Morrill said: "Our plan is to continue to fight for Jersey City students and residents every step of the way."

Or in other words, "if it's good for Jersey City, then screw everyone else."

Public Opposition is a Good Sign!

While many people are angry about Jersey City's litigation and blatant indifference to the fate of the rest of New Jersey, I think the litigation itself is a good sign.

Fulop never took state aid reform seriously prior to this winter.  Presumably he knew Prieto would block it.

But now that Fulop is actually speaking out against redistribution and wasting $75,000 of Jersey City's money on a law firm it means that Fulop has a fear of redistribution that he didn't have before.

We in the public have never been privy to what conversations Steve Fulop and Vincent Prieto have.  All we know is that Fulop is against state aid redistribution and he boasts "I have significant clout with the Speaker."

But if Fulop is now hiring a law firm, that means that either his control over Vincent Prieto is loosening or Prieto has told him that he isn't going to be able to block state aid redistribution much longer.

So while it's infuriating that Fulop and the City Council have this unbelievably self-interested mentality (they all purport to be progressives), the fact that they finally feel they have to fight for Adjustment Aid means that they finally take seriously the prospect of its elimination.

Jersey City City Council:
If It's Good for Jersey City,
Then Screw Everyone Else

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