Governor Christie will try – again – to push through a program to divert public funds to private and religious schools in the FY16 State Budget. The identical proposal for vouchers was soundly rejected two years ago as an illegal end-run around the Legislature through an egregious process known as “logrolling,” a practice prohibited by the New Jersey Constitution.
When the Governor presented the same proposal in his FY14 Budget, Education Law Center notified lawmakers that including vouchers in the final budget will render the annual State spending bill unconstitutional. In response, the Legislature stripped the proposal from the budget, keeping New Jersey “voucher free.”
“The Governor’s voucher proposal was blatantly unconstitutional two years ago, and it’s still illegal,” said David G. Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “Diverting scarce public funds to private and religious schools has been consistently rejected by the legislature as wrong for our state and children. We’re confident the Governor’s latest gambit is dead on arrival.”
The New Jersey Constitution – unlike the U.S. Constitution – requires that legislation address only one “single object.” The single object requirement prevents “logrolling,” the pernicious practice of including an unrelated and unpopular measure in a popular one in order to facilitate its passage by the Legislature.
As he did two years ago, the Governor is proposing a $2 million appropriation for a pilot program of publicly funded vouchers for private and religious schools nearly identical to the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA), a bill that has failed to gain legislative support for over a decade.
In his State Budget address on February 24, the Governor announced that he will again try to use the Annual Appropriations Act – which is limited to spending on all governmental programs for the coming year – because he has been unable to secure legislative support for vouchers since he took office in 2010.
If the Governor’s proposal is included in the FY16 Appropriations Act, the majority of legislators who oppose diverting public funds to pay for private and religious schooling would have to vote against the entire State budget, with its billions of dollars of spending allocations to multi-faceted programs, in order to oppose vouchers. This is precisely what the Constitution prohibits.
“The Governor should have learned his lesson that he can’t use the State Budget to enact vouchers, a proposal that has failed for years to gain support,” Mr. Sciarra said. “It is an act of desperation, in violation of our Constitution.”
“We will be working with legislators of both parties to keep the Governor’s voucher proposal out of the State Budget to ensure the Appropriations Act is constitutional,” Mr. Sciarra added.
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