How has the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) – a private, special interest – become the most powerful political force in the state?
By rigging the system to secure annual, automatic taxpayer funding. Since 1994, over $2.1 billion in taxpayer funding, reaching a record $129 million in 2018.
Decades ago, the NJEA used it political clout to lobby lawmakers to construct a funding system that guaranteed the annual flow of tens of millions of property tax dollars directly into its coffers. School districts collect the property taxes that pay teacher salaries and then withhold the teachers’ dues from their paychecks. Over 80 percent of these dues flow up to the NJEA. School districts and teachers are thus rendered mere pass-throughs for property tax dollars to flow directly into the NJEA’s treasury. The teachers never see the money.
This also amounts to an enormous taxpayer subsidy. School districts essentially act as the NJEA’s bill collector. Most private membership organizations must constantly persuade their members to remain engaged and to cut a check for their dues every year. This effort requires substantial resources and expenditures. For an organization with 200,000 members like the NJEA, such an effort would require many millions of dollars annually. Yet school districts do this for the NJEA for free.
The NJEA has used this automatic flow of tax dollars for its own political purposes – both at the state and the local level.
The predictable result of this rigged game is that the NJEA dominates state politics at all levels. While it does not win all the time, it wins most of the time because the political playing field is severely slanted in its favor. No other group has captured taxpayer funding to the extent the NJEA has, and it is the rare opponent who can compete with the NJEA in a political contest.
Today, the political system continues to do the NJEA’s bidding. And it is an entrenched political system that is highly resistant to reform or change because of the vast sums of taxpayer money behind the status quo. New Jersey’s status quo is the NJEA’s status quo.
The question for New Jersey’s citizens is: why are their property tax dollars being funneled to a special interest that then uses those dollars for its own benefit and against their interests?