Governor Christie’s attempt to enact a program to use public funds for private school vouchers in the FY14 State Budget constitutes an egregious form of “logrolling,” which is prohibited by the New Jersey Constitution.
In a March 26 letter to the Assembly and Senate Budget Committees, Education Law Center (ELC) is advising legislators that including vouchers in the FY14 Appropriations Act, as the Governor proposes, will make the annual State spending law unconstitutional.
The New Jersey Constitution – unlike the US Constitution – requires that legislation address only one “single object.” The single object requirement is intended to prevent “logrolling,” the pernicious practice of including an unrelated and unpopular measure in a popular one in order to facilitate its passage by the Legislature.
In his proposed FY14 Budget, which totals $29.3 billion, 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 presently pending in the Legislature that has failed to gain legislative support. In fact, versions of the OSA legislation have been introduced in past legislative sessions without success.
In his State Budget address on February 26, Governor Christie made it clear that he is trying 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 passage of OSA over the last three years.
If the Governor’s proposal is included in the FY14 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 the voucher program. This is precisely the type of pernicious logrolling the New Jersey Constitution prohibits.
“The Governor is blatantly attempting to improperly use the Appropriations Act to enact OSA, a bill that has languished in the Legislature for years,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director and author of the March 26 letter. “It is a desperate ploy to do an end-run around the Legislature, in violation of the New Jersey Constitution.”
“We’re confident legislators will not include the Governor’s voucher proposal in the final FY14 State Budget to ensure the Appropriations Act is constitutional,” Mr. Sciarra added.
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