Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Hold On To Your Hats: N.J.'s Next Governor is Already Elected

News broke this week that Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, long-rumored to covet the state’s top office, was bowing out of the 2017 gubernatorial race. While there is are several other Democratic hopefuls the spotlight’s on Phil Murphy, a multi-millionaire Goldman Sachs ex-exec and U.S. Ambassador to Germany.

Political prospects can flip in a nano-second. But if Nate Silver was placing odds and weighting heavily for teacher union support, you’d be best off betting on Murphy. Is that good or bad for public education? Depends if you prefer fairyland instead of reality.

First, a little background.

Just a few months ago the top contenders to fill Christie’s shoes were Senate President Steve Sweeney and Mayor Fulop. Then Sweeney got into fisticuffs with NJEA honchos because he exercised common and fiscal sense by declining to put an amendment on the November ballot that would require the state to allocate non-existent money to pensions. That wasn’t  seen as a deal-breaker for him: while NJEA holds a grudge against him because he helped usher through the 2011 pension and healthcare reform bill that requires public workers to contribute more to their premiums. he’s an officer in the Iron Workers union. Pretty good labor union cred.

However, today PolitickerNJ reports that the people who really run New Jersey -- county bosses and powerbrokers -- are lining up behind Murphy, in part because of internecine disputes over who would replace Sweeney as Senate President. (It's complicated. Go to the link if you care.)

And last week in a surprising turn,  Fulop announced that he would not be running for governor in 2017.There are several reasons for this about-face; one of them is probably that he’s likely to have to take the stand in Bridget Kelly’s Bridgegate trial because there’s some evidence that Fulop may have had some knowledge about the plans to cause some traffic problems for mayors who didn’t endorse Christie.

Or maybe he just got advance word that the fix was in for Murphy. Heck, even Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, who less than two months ago announced that he would do “anything” to get Fulop elected, just endorsed Murphy. Max Pizarro puts it pricelessly:
That last squirming, spastic shoulder just got pinned to the mat and laid still, as Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, the son of a poet, enacted a touch of poetic touch to the gubernatorial contest and shook hands on endorsing Phil Murphy, Goldman Sachs veteran.
Enough about politics. Let’s talk about education. Murphy’s platform is so fantastical that it practically floats away on fairy dust. Here’s what he would do:


  • Fully fund the state pension system with nary a reform, even though he told the Star-Ledger that this makes him “nervous.” Ya think? According to Jeff Bennett at New Jersey State Education Aid, Murphy, during an interview, “refused to directly answer...how he would pay for things and instead said that a budget is a statement of a society’s values, so the dollars and cents of costs can be figured out later.” I’m sure that will go over big at Standard and Poor’s.


  • Fully fund NJ’s inequitable and unsustainable school funding formula. Again, Jeff Bennett: Murphy’s “major omission” is that he  “doesn’t acknowledge that fully funding the K-12 component of SFRA would cost $2 billion (without redistribution) or give any pathway at all to where he is going to get that money.


  • End all standardized testing, i.e., PARCC: ““The era of high stakes, high stress standardized tests in New Jersey must end, and I will see that it does,” said Murphy. “We must get back to the simple premise of letting teachers use classroom time to teach to their students’ needs, and not to a test.”


  • Eliminate the current requirement that high school graduates demonstrate proficiency in Algebra 1 (usually taken in 8th or 9th grade) and 10th grade reading. 


  • “End student and teacher stress.” (What’s not to like?)


So, pre-ordained Governor Phil Murphy will eliminate educational accountability, eliminate fiscal accountability, teach students to meditate instead of learning math, and fully fund a prelapsarian pension system that is, in fact, unfundable as currently written.

I know, I know. The election’s a year away and Murphy has to solidify NJEA’s support. But as a lifelong Democrat I want a candidate who at least dabbles in fiscal reality, acknowledges the shortcomings of the state’s pension and school funding system, and understands the importance of standards and accountability. Maybe I’m the one who’s inhaling too much fairy dust.

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