“The powerhouse” of New Jersey politics – that’s how the NJEA describes itself. And the facts back them up.
For more than 50 years, the NJEA has dominated New Jersey politics. Indeed, the modern era of New Jersey politics has been one continuous saga of the NJEA wielding extraordinary influence to serve its own interests. It constructed a system that automatically and annually generates tens of millions of taxpayer dollars— presently $129 million—funneled directly into its coffers. It spends far more of these tax dollars on political action than is reported or generally known – currently about $65 million a year, which dwarfs all other political spenders.
This kind of money makes for enormous and unmatched political clout. The NJEA has an army of political foot soldiers that reaches every district in the state. It can run multimillion-dollar media campaigns whenever it chooses and regularly stages rallies with thousands of protesters. Ninety percent of the NJEA’s endorsed candidates routinely win in legislative elections.
As a result, the NJEA’s legislative successes have been numerous and consequential. Notably, in 1991, the NJEA flipped the legislature from majority Democratic to super-majority Republican. Neither party forgot, and in 2001, the NJEA gained a 9 percent increase in pension benefits even though the pension fund’s assets were severely depleted by the stock market crash – with only one dissenting vote. More recently, the legislature passed the Workplace Democracy Enhancement Act, a very NJEA-friendly law that effectively circumvents the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision.
The NJEA has also used its clout to block reform initiatives: a 2005 Constitutional Convention to address property taxes, a 2005 benefits review task force, a 2006 special legislative session to address rising benefit costs and taxes, and many pieces of reform legislation that it did not like.
The NJEA was all-in for candidate Phil Murphy, running an unprecedented campaign to mobilize members to support him. Since his election, it has secretly spent at least $2.5 million in a media campaign in support of their shared agenda. In return, the governor has appointed NJEA members and allies to key positions in his administration, openly supported the NJEA’s legislative agenda and accommodated its interests in his budgets.
The NJEA continues to work to expand its clout for the future. Unbothered by the blatant conflict of interest, it runs a training academy for members to run for political office, which fielded a record 273 candidates in 2018. Its trained political organizers now take managerial positions in NJEA-endorsed candidates’ election campaigns.
Over decades, the NJEA has successfully used its unmatched clout to benefit itself. The result is New Jersey’s special-interest-dominated status quo: the NJEA’s status quo.