On the last day of February, Gov. Chris Christie offered the Legislature in his state budget address a 100-day window to negotiate a new way to fund public education.
It was a long shot, given Christie’s dwindling political capital, but the governor isn’t one to let go easily of an issue he has considered for the past seven years.
Yet 22 days later the governor has yet to meet with legislative leaders, and there is little enthusiasm building for what he has to offer.
To be fair, there has been some effort at outreach. A meeting was scheduled last Wednesday between Christie and Senate and Assembly leaders from both parties, including Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.But it was cancelled in the aftermath of the snowstorm, with a new date not yet set. Christie said he remained hopeful, putting the blame on the scheduling conflicts.
“I've had telephone conversations with all of them,” he said. “I began the conversation with all four of the leaders. I'm hoping to get them into the room this week, but they're apparently very, very busy."
Yet to at least one key player, the thought of a new school-funding formula being negotiated in the next two to three months —78 days to be exact — is a nonstarter.
“Doing a whole new formula, that isn’t going to happen,” said Prieto on Thursday. “I’m not open to that.”
What comes of this dance is anyone’s guess at this point. Christie is not giving up hope of a middle ground, he said, and his 100-day invitation as part of his fiscal 2018 budget presentation came with a veiled threat that he could move unilaterally.
“I'm happy that we've had initial conversations, but it's not like anybody has discovered the secret sauce in our conversations that's going to solve the problem,” he said.
“I'm optimistic that if we enter into these conversations in good faith we'll be able to come to some kind of an agreement that all of us would see as improvement upon the current system.”
Yet the opening for any compromise that is to affect the next year’s budgets for schools is tight — and closing quickly. School districts are currently setting their budgets, and a significant change in state funding — especially a reduction — will be a steep challenge.
That’s not to say legislators are ruling out some changes. State Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), a member of the Assembly budget committee, said on Friday that there are discussions among legislative leaders that could bring about some late adjustments.
“What we can do and maybe what we should do is making some hard decisions,” he said at a legislative forum held by the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association.
“I can only ascertain from those conversations that there will be some material affect on the amounts of money that have been allocated,” he continued. “If we take legislative leaders at their word, there will be some impact on the 2017-18 school year.”