A Senate committee Thursday advanced a bill that would green-light larger property tax increases in some school districts losing state aid.

As part of returning New Jersey’s state aid allocations to schools to its long-ignored formula, some districts are losing millions in a transition that will continue until 2024. With the 2% cap on increases in the property tax levy in place, some are having a hard time adjusting.

A bill endorsed by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, S4289, would apply to approximately 40 of those districts – those that are facing cuts in aid and spending below the adequacy level set by the state’s school funding formula.

Senator Declan O’Scanlon said he’s sympathetic to their plight but opposed to the bill.

“It’s a high bar in order to make up the difference. There is a mechanism, however. Going to the voters is how we designed the cap to begin with,” said O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth.

“Before we consider an automatic tax cap increase, I’d much rather do some of the substantial Path to Progress reforms that I think most of us agree on,” he said.

The bill was supported by the Senate budget committee’s Democrats, except for one who abstained, and one of its four Republicans. Sen. Sam Thompson, R-Middlesex, said it’s necessary for school districts on the chopping block like Old Bridge.

“Year one was hard. But by the time you get to year five, there’s absolutely no way with caps they can make up for it, unless they knock out really critical programs,” said Thompson, a sponsor of the bill. “So this is about the only way they can handle this reduction in state aid that’s coming along.”

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Gov. Phil Murphy knocked the bill on Twitter, saying: “Let’s fix the gimmicks in Trenton, not raise property taxes.”

Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, says Murphy is engaging in demagoguery to seek hikes in income taxes for the rich and the sales tax.

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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