by Colleen O’Dea, NJSpotlight.com
The Republican challengers for Assembly seats in the 37th District have pinned their hopes for unseating the incumbents on the school funding plan being pushed by one of the Senate’s most conservative members.
Gregory John Aslanian and Keith Jensen have made the Fair School Funding Act promoted by Sen. Michael Doherty the centerpiece of their campaign in this Democratic-leaning Bergen County district.
They are the underdogs in their battle against Democratic incumbent Assembly members Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Gordon Johnson. Two years ago, Huttle and Johnson beat their GOP opponents by 2-to-1 margins.
Further spicing up the race this year is Libertarian Julian Heicklen, who is also seeking a seat in the lower house.
The Democrats in the 37th are no friends of Gov. Chris Christie. They did not vote last June for the pension and health benefits reform program and so got the endorsements of the New Jersey Education Association, state Fraternal Order of Police, and NJ AFL-CIO.
The Republicans are not running with Christie so much as they are running with Doherty, having embraced his funding plan and making it virtually the only issue discussed on their website. Doherty’s bill seeks to amend the state constitution to provide an equal amount of school aid per student regardless of district, so the so-called Abbott low income and city districts would no longer get more aid. Aslanian and Jensen said that would bring $163 million back into the 37th District and that money could help get the economy moving.
“We have been spending a vertiable fortune on the urban schools,” Aslanian said.
Some of the $30 billion spent in the last decade in the 31 Abbott districts has built elaborate pools and ball fields, “the kind of stuff you see in Beverly Hills, that not even Alpine and the richest towns in New Jersey would do,” Aslanian added.
The current system supports bloated and sometimes corrupt school administrations, Jensen contended, saying the Fair School Funding formula could reduce property taxes in the 37th District by as much as a third.
Aslanian said Doherty’s formula would still be progressive, because wealthier communities would pay more in taxes. But it would be fairer, because those communities would get more money back from the state in aid.
“I’ve knocked on doors in this district and there are a lot of seniors on fixed incomes, poor people barely making ends meet,” he said. “I feel our money should not be traveling out of our district. “We have to have people in there looking out for their constituents,” Jensen added.