Outside of New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie is a rising star among conservatives and a bane of liberals. But Steve Lonegan is not satisfied, and is not afraid to say so.
At issue: how far can a Republican governor go, when Democrats control the legislature, and the Supreme Court of New Jersey has turned the State constitution into Thomas Jefferson’s “thing of wax”? Chris Christie, a lawyer by training and trade, will defer to the Court until he has an opportunity to change its composition, and will avail himself of such opportunities as soon as they become available. Hence his decision to fire Associate Justice John E. Wallace, a decision that has earned him the continued enmity of the legislative leadership, and praise from Tea Party activists who also see the Supreme Court as part of the problem.
But that does not satisfy Steve Lonegan, his former opponent. To him, such deference to a court–any court–is what allows the Supreme Court to dominate the other two branches of government. To Lonegan, any decision that violates, misconstrues, or writes something into the Constitution is inherently invalid and the governor need not obey it. When asked whether that would lead an activist, like the Education Law Center (the persistent plaintiff’s counsel in Robinson v. Cahill and Abbott v. Burke I-XX, and now Abbot v. Burke XXI), to sue the government, Lonegan says, “Let ’em sue!” Which sounds very much like this statement by President Andrew Jackson:
[Justice] John Marshall [of SCOTUS] has made his decision. Now let him enforce it!
Lonegan’s position is that the spectacle of more than half (now 60 percent) of State aid to public schools going to 31 districts (including one, in Hoboken, that is hardly “inner city” considering the average income of its current residents). He also believes that Christie might not be honoring a Constitutional provision (Article VIII, Section I, pghh. 7a-b) that the income and estate tax, and 0.5 percent of the sales tax, must be reserved to the Property Tax Relief Fund. He also points out another Abbott ruling: that in the 31 districts involved, the State must fund pre-school for children beginning at the age of 3. The Constitution mandates “free public schools” for children between the ages of 5 and 18.
Lonegan shared with this Examiner last week his own proposal for a Constitutional amendment to revoke the “thorough and efficient system of free public schools” provision entirely, and to declare that if the State is to fund any public schools, it must offer the same amount to each district.
If they’re so amendment-happy, why don’t they do this? That would erase the Abbott decision.
That is, if the legislature would pass such an amendment. Since they refused even to consider a Constitutional amendment to limit property tax increases, the prospects appear bleak, at least until the Elections of 2011.
In the meantime, Lonegan’s Americans for Prosperity proposed a State budget that would have preserved and even increased State aid to public schools. That would have eliminated any grounds for the ELC to sue, but would also have made all public-school districts even more dependent on State aid than they are. As it is–and this is something that the Tea Party movement understands–the loss of State aid should encourage voters and local activists to demand an accounting of town councils and school boards concerning budget items–not all of them involving personnel costs or “unfunded mandates from Trenton”–that have gotten out of hand. The multiplicity of superintendents and deputy superintendents, each with his or her own secretary and earning six-figure salaries, and not one of whom carries any teaching schedule at all, spring to mind. Tea Party activists have shared other outrageous items with this Examiner. The bottom line: Trenton isn’t entirely to blame, and shutting off the money spigot might be just the incentive that concerned citizens need.
That Christie and Lonegan have such differing perspectives of political and judicial reality is bad enough–and perhaps each man should reach out to the other, especially since AFP has some good ideas. Lonegan also proposed very deep reductions in the State workforce to realize even greater budget savings. But whether Christie would have been able to achieve that, even with a government shutdown, is an open question.
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