Lawmaker, NJEA clash over campaign cash
In a late afternoon State House press conference Monday, Assembly GOP Leader Join Bramnick (R-Westfield) accused the New Jersey Education Association of spending roughly $3 million dollars to prop up the campaigns of Democratic Assembly candidates in three districts because they answered a survey saying would support the positions of the teachers’ union.
An NJEA spokesman who confirmed the authenticity of the questionnaire, had no problem conceding that Bramnick was right.
“Clearly anyone who disagrees with the teachers’ union position, they’re not going to support. How do I know that? Because they would not endorse one Republican. Forty districts, 80 candidates and they wouldn’t endorse one Republican,” Bramnick said.
Among other things the questionnaire asked candidates if they supported fully funding the public employees’ pension system and opposed any further health benefit reform efforts by the legislature. The survey also asked if candidates favored raising revenue to fund pensions. Bramnick said no Republican answered "yes" to that because it would mean tax hikes.
“Is this money really being spent to educate kids? Ask the NJEA why they’re spending $3 million. Is it for better education in the schools or is it to preserve pensions? Is it to preserve health benefits,” Bramnick asked reporters at the press conference.
NJ 101.5 asked the NJEA if the $3 million could be more wisely spent on better education in the classroom.
“Our job at NJEA is to advocate for our members and to advocate for great public schools and that’s what we do every day,” said NJEA Communications Director Steve Baker.
So is it true that the NJEA is only backing candidates who support their causes? Baker said that is, in fact, the case.
“Yes. We have only supported candidates who support full funding of the pension system. Jon Bramnick would like to make this election about NJEA. This election is about whether legislators are going to keep their promises to public employees,” Baker said.
Funding campaigns is legitimate Bramnick conceded and he said he supported teachers and was proud of his public school education. He insisted he just wanted to let voters know how much money the NJEAS was spending, where it was spending it and why.
The lion’s share of the cash is being sent to the only districts political experts felt were competitive this year. Those included the 1st District (parts of Atlantic and Cumberland Counties and all of Cape May County), 2nd District (Atlantic County) and 38th District (parts of Bergen and Passaic Counties).
Some other inquiries listed in the NJEA PAC Questionnaire for the 2015 election included questions about health benefits and what reforms candidates would support to control costs. It also asked about standardized testing and what role, if any, tests such as the PARCC should play in a student's academic life. The questionnaire also asks about plans for funding the retirement system and whether the candidates would be willing to vote to override a governor's veto if the situation arose.
Kevin McArdle has covered the State House for New Jersey 101.5 news since 2002. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter at @kevinmcardle1.