In February, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop suggested a fiscal plan for the city school district that included moving $40 million of tax abatement money from the city coffers to the ed board over the next three years.
When the school board decided to go in a very different direction from his plan, the offer was apparently rescinded, school board President Lorenzo Richardson told his colleagues last week.
If true, we urge Mayor Fulop to rethink that position.
Surely, $40 million — $10 million each in 2020 and ‘23; $20 million in ’21 — is a drop in the bucket for either the $612 million city budget or the $736 million schools budget. But, symbolically, it could do something to assuage the still-raw wounds in a city struggling to overcome the perception of a golden waterfront built on the backs of inner-city residents.
Abatements – through which certain developments are allowed to pay less than full property taxes with none or very little of the money going to public schools – were an incentive to rebuild blighted areas. With the 1989 state takeover of the public schools pouring money in from Trenton for decades, it became too easy to keep doling out these agreements — until the schools reverted to full local control and not enough property tax money was coming in.
Coupled with the delayed property revaluation that had the poorest neighborhoods overpaying and wealthier neighborhoods underpaying for decades, it was a recipe for injustice and resentment.
Mayor Fulop has done well by refusing in the last few years to give out any new abatements in those wealthy areas and by upping the percentage of payments in lieu of taxes that go to the schools. And, he instituted a corporate payroll tax to go to the schools.
The coronavirus pandemic is already wreaking havoc with all public budgets, and the city said in March that it anticipates at least a $70 million loss in revenue this year.
Still, a tug-of-war over $40 million isn’t the image Mayor Fulop should want residents to remember. Taking the money away from public schools after offering it is worse than never offering it at all.
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