Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Gov.Christie's Fractured "Fairness Formula" to Fund Schools

The following is my letter to the Star-Ledger Editor sent August 24, 2016. Governor Chris Christie has been pushing a plan to reduce the state's educational funding to distressed school districts and increase funding to more affluent districts. He calls this his "Fairness Formula". Each student in New Jersey would get the exact same amount of state aid, $6,599. The rest of the per/pupil cost, nearly $19,000 in this state, would have to come from local property taxes. Here is my response to his recent comments:

Dear Starledger Editor:

"The day of reckoning has come," Gov. Christie says. He thinks it's time that wasteful urban schools and poor districts pulled their own weight. He wants them to pay the full cost to educate their kids from  property tax revenue.  His one size fits all state aid plan will bring tax relief to wealthy (mostly Republican) suburbia. Here's what he doesn't say:
  • ·         The 10 largest urban districts and 10 wealthiest school districts have virtually the same per pupil costs ($20.0k vs. $20.5k by my calculations)
  • ·         The average median income in these 10 urban districts is around $45,000 vs. $159,000 in the wealthiest districts
  • ·         More money is spent in urban districts on remediation to overcome the impact of poverty;  while more money is spent in wealthy districts on advanced educational programs and high end sports
  • ·         Property taxes are based on home values, which are 4.7 times higher in the wealthiest districts
  • ·         Even with little state aid to offset costs, the average property tax rate in the wealthiest districts is 67% lower than in the largest urban districts

Instead of proposing a flat state aid rate per child Governor Christie should be proposing a flat property tax rate collected by each county and distributed according to need. As regressive as a flat tax is it would still be less regressive than what we have now.

Brian T Lynch, MSW

(for more detail on my analysis, go to: 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

"We" is My Choice, Democracy Coalescing Around Ideas Rather than Candidates

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

What follows is a brief response to a comment made on OpEdNews to my article, "America at the Crossroads of Crisis"

I was at a rally for Bernie Sanders in New York City some months back. Thousands of people showed up to march from Union Square to Zuccotti Park in the Wall Street district. This wasn't a Bernie Sanders rally, mind you. His campaign had nothing to do with it. It was organized by people whose ideas Bernie supports. It was an example of popular democracy coalescing around ideas rather than a candidate. That distinction has been lost on the DNC and the Clinton Campaign, but it shouldn't get lost on us.

The only power for change greater than organized money is organized people. That is what we must become. And when the next President and Congress looks out across the Washington Mall on days when a big vote is pending, they should only see our faces instead of the carefully groomed grass. If that happens, and until that happens, nothing we say from the comfort of our living rooms will matter. But if Donald Trump is sitting in the Oval Office, our public squares may no longer be free speech zones. Our faces may be hidden behind police barricades, and Trump's choices for Supreme Court Justices might just back him up on that.

Friday, July 15, 2016

America at the Crossroads of Crisis

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

His very name has become a dog whistle for expressing White outrage against growing minority influence in America. Trump! Trump! Trump!

His mantra, "Make America Great Again," resonates with so many White people because they hear, "Make America White Again."

As a country founded by immigrants and supported through slavery and exploitative labor practices for much of its formative years, the growth of a powerful, comfortable middle class in the last half of the last Century seemed like a coming of age. The rise of the middle class after World War II was vindication that our founding principles were virtuous and the diversity of our pluralistic society was our strength. We were now a world power and an exceptional example of a place where merit, innovation and hard work paid off. We were proof that immigrants can do well here. Of course the payoff was always more difficult for minority groups to achieve, especially African-Americans and South American migrants.

But now there has been some fundamental shifts in the fabric of America. The political and economic power of the middle class has been on a long, slow decline for decades. At the same time the population of minority groups and the flow of immigrants from our Southern borders have grown. Minority groups, taken together, make up nearly half of our citizens. Globalization of business has increased competition for good jobs and higher wages while domestic pressure has increased to give minority groups greater equality of opportunity. A bloody clash of cultures has arisen on the world stage adding anxiety for those of us who worry that America is losing its cultural identity. (A growing worry in Europe as well). And all the while, the American majority, made up of mostly White Protestants of Western European distraction, is being stretched and fractured by growing wealth inequality. The wages and ownership interests of most White Americans is declining while wealthy White elites are growing ever richer.

It is understandable that the timing of middle class economic decline and the growth of minority interests would seem like a causal  correlation. It is also understandable how powerful interests might exploit this apparent cause-and-effect for their own benefit, but the truth is far more nuanced, and cloaked in deceit. In an ironic juxtaposition, the New York Times published two excellent articles on the same day that highlight both our sad cultural polarization and the sinister impact of inequality on our public institutions.

In his July 13, 2016, article titled, "For Whites Sensing Decline, Donald Trump Unleashes Words of Resistance," Nicholas Confessore writes:
"In countless collisions of color and creed, Donald J. Trump’s name evokes an easily understood message of racial hostility. Defying modern conventions of political civility and language, Mr. Trump has breached the boundaries that have long constrained Americans’ public discussion of race."
What follows is an excellent expose on the cultural landscape in America. Then in an article titled, "How Private Equity Found Power and Profit in State Capitols," the journalist detail how private equity firms are manipulating state and federal governments to pass legislation even more favorable to their financial interests.

The slow but steady economic decline of the middle class has taken most of us decades to recognize. That it was a planned assassination of the middle class perpetrated by corporate capitalists in the 1970's has yet to sink in. And efforts by the elite perpetrators to distract us from their deeds by blaming the poor and pitting us, one against the other, rages on.

It may be indirectly true that minorities are somehow responsible for the economic decline that White Americans are experiencing, but certainly not in the direct ways as portrayed in the press or on the internet. It isn't really true, for example, that undocumented immigrants are taking away jobs from White Americans.  It is true that immigration has created a growing pool of cheap, non-union labor that puts downward pressure on wages. It is also true that the pool of cheap labor has grown exponentially through the corporate globalization of commerce. But the bigger truth is that wealthy corporate capitalists have put us all in an economic vise. Almost all of us find ourselves in that proverbially overcrowded lifeboat that is about to capsize.

We seem to be at a crossroad. We can choose the Trump path to social dissolution and toss as many "others" overboard as we can, or ignore that we in the lifeboat because of the wealthy corporate capitalists (until we sink) or we can link arms to forge a new path that restores democracy and a civil economy for everyone. The only real option is to come together and face down the true source of America's decline, the corporate global capitalists who are hoarding the fruits of our labors.

Monday, July 11, 2016

NY Times Exaggerates Implication of a Study on Police Use of Deadly Force

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
Let's start with these facts:
- White people make up 63% of the country but only 48% of police action fatalities.
- African-Americans make up 13% of the country but 31% of these fatalities.

Recently, a single researcher found no racial disparity in the "extreme use of force-officer involved shootings" in Houston, Texas, based on that police departments self-reporting of incidents in which law enforcement officials believed a police shooting was justified. That is the actual extent of the finding of Roland G. Fryer, Jr., the researcher who also admits his data set is not "ideal".  
Incredibly, police in the United States are not required to file any uniform reports when their actions result in civilian fatalities. The FBI compiles voluntary reports of "justifiable police homicides" but the most agencies don't participate.  With no uniform reporting a detailed analysis of a single department has limited value. You can't conclude much from this study and you certainly can't generalize the findings nationally.  But that is exactly what the New York Times did.
In an article published July 11, 2016, the New York Times headline read, "Surprising New Evidence Shows Bias in Police Use of Force but Not in Shootings." The article goes on to say the findings, "contradicts the mental image of police shooting that many Americans hold..."  
The more robust and pertinent question is whether there is a pattern of racial disparity in all civilian deaths that result from police actions. When  reports of civilian deaths are compiled from local news accounts the answer is yes. Racial bias in which civilians end up dead in police actions is evident nearly everywhere. The only other bias more significant than a persons race is their gender. Civilian men are almost always the victims. 
I was among the first to analyse these local news reports data last April. In a region-by-region and state-by-state analysis there was clear evidence of a racial disparity in police involved civilian deaths. See
The grossly over-generalized reporting on the Fryer study by the New York Times isn't worthy of their reputation and doesn't serve the public interest in this important topic.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Rich School, Poor School and Distributive Justice in New Jersey

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Governor Chris Christie can sound persuasive when he wants to lower taxes for the rich. He calls his latest effort the "Fairness Formula" for public school funding. In defense of this initiative he wrote a commentary in the Star Ledger newspaper on July 3, 2016. In it he said the 31 economically disadvantaged Abbot districts (plaintiffs in a prior class action suit) get "grossly disproportionate" amounts of state school aid, and that urban districts spend disproportionately "more on education that most other districts". His answer is to give every student in New Jersey an equal share of state aid no matter whether their parents are rich or poor. It seems obvious that the Fair Funding proposal is an attempt to give more tax breaks to his wealthy constituents. The fairness of  "Abbott" school funding has already been litigated and decided by the NJ Supreme court. But what about the claim that urban districts pay disproportionately more to educate children?

Trying to compare property taxes in New Jersey is a daunting task. The General Tax Rate used to actually calculate your tax bill is relative to the percentage of assessed valuation in every town. In some towns home values reflect current market rates and property taxes are assessed at 100% of full value.  In other towns property re-evaluations aren't current and property tax rates are based on less than 100% full the full market values.The General Tax Rates goes up as assessed home values dip below current market values, according to somewhat arbitrary municipal decisions.

The Effective Tax Rate, on the other hand, is a statistical calculations of what the rate would be if every home was assessed at 100% of market value. It allows a more direct comparison of tax rates from one town to the next. This is the property tax rate I will use, along with current home market values and current median family income, to show that New Jersey's current state aid formulas do an adequate job of at least balancing the tax burden between our biggest urban centers and our wealthier school districts.

A further complication to remember here is that school budgets get folded into the municipal budgets for property tax collection purposes. On average, about 52% of the municipal budget is spend on public education. In urban districts, and especially poor districts, the cost of municipal services is higher than in suburban. The greater needs and higher costs in urban municipal services eat into the revenue available for public education. In Newark, for example, the schools portion of the budget makes up 29% of the budget while in Hillsborough the school portion is 67% of the budget. 

.As discussed in prior posts, residential property values are a poor indicator of family wealth. Wealthy families may own multiple homes and other lucrative investments while poor families may have very little equity in their home. The current market value of the home is also not a good reflection of the residents disposable income. Poor folks or retirees may live in a home they have owned for many years before local real estate values, and property taxes, skyrocketed. A families median household income is a much better indicator of their ability to pay property taxes then is the assessed value of their home.

Keeping all this in mind, the following table compares the ten largest urban areas to 10 wealthy school districts in New Jersey.  Keep in mind that the quality of educational outcomes between urban districts are wealthy districts is vastly different. Wealthy districts have considerable advantages. Urban districts have to deal with the impact of poverty and inadequate nutrition on their students. They have many more foreign born students who don't speak English. They have more dysfunctional families, homelessness, poorer quality medical care and more special needs student. Their students are far more diverse in every way. While we must concede that the average cost of educating a child in the suburbs is less than in urban or wealthy districts, the cost of education children in urban districts is justifiably greater.  But that cost is not greater than the cost of all the educational benefits students receive in our wealthy districts. 

The current state aid formula helps urban school districts overcome the disadvantages induced by poverty and social inequality. As a result, the per-pupil costs in the 10 largest urban areas in New Jersey are virtually the same as the per-pupil costs in 10 of the highest income districts in New Jersey. The wealthy districts on average have only a $602 higher per-pupil cost than urban schools. This doesn't mean educational opportunities are the same. Extra funding in urban areas is spent on remedial needs for socially disadvantaged children while additional funding in wealthy districts is spent on exceptional education opportunities such as AP courses or the IB (International Baccalaureate) programs. 

Median household income in the largest urban districts is less than a third of the median household income in high income districts. Nevertheless, the average Effective Tax Rate in urban districts is a third higher than in ten of the highest income districts while urban home values are nearly 5 times less then in the high income districts.

If you multiply the effective tax rate (assumes 100% of evaluation) by the current average home value, you end up with what a comparative average property tax bill. The comparative property tax cost for the 10 largest cities is about $7,000 while the 10 wealthy districts pay almost $20,000 on average. That might seem unfair, but if you look at the last column in the table above you find that property taxes, as a percentage of household income, is higher in the urban districts than in the wealthy districts.

The municipal tax burden in urban districts is not disproportionate to the tax burden in wealthy districts relative to household incomes, and the per pupil cost of public education in both is almost identical. Governor Christie's Fairness Formula would upset this balance. It would take money away from urban districts needed to fund remedial needs of their disadvantaged students and give wealthy districts more cash to spend on giving their children even greater educational advantages.

Below are links to the resources used in this analysis

Edu data links

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Fairness and the Funding of Public Education in New Jersey

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Fairness Formula? Governor Chris Christie is proposing a plan to give an equal amount of State Aid funding to every student in every school districts in New Jersey. Specifically, his proposal would take the higher amounts of State Aid we currently give to very poor districts and distribute it equally across the state to reduce property taxes in the wealthier suburbs. This, he says, is fair.

For those who are not familiar with New Jersey, most school funding is raised through a local wealth tax based on the assessed value of residential and private property. This is a highly regressive way to raise revenue, as you will see below.  

We are big on home rule in New Jersey, so each town has its own independent school board. Each towns Board of Education proposes an annual school budget which is voted on in a public referendum.  If passed, the costs are incorporated into the municipal budget and property tax rates are raised if more revenue is needed.  If the school budget fails, town and school officials have to either cut the school budget or make other adjustments to municipal services so property taxes don't rise.

Here is truism:  Wealthy municipalities tend to grow more affluent over time while poor districts tend to decline even further.  

Wealthy towns have better school systems in New Jersey. That is also a fact. So parents who can afford to upgrade their home often move into towns with better schools. Property values rise with the demand for homes in districts with better schools.  Property values decline in districts that have underfunded or troubled schools, so property tax rates must increase in poor districts just to break even on current school spending.  As property values increase in wealthy districts, more property tax revenue is generated.  Some of this additional revenue goes into further improving the schools without the need to increase taxes.  In some cases tax rates may even decline in affluent municipalities as home values rise. The result is that wealthy districts have much better public schools and lower tax rates while poor districts cannot afford to keep up the disadvantaged schools they have.  

State Municipal and School Aid was designed to help level municipal tax burdens in New Jersey. State Aid is allocated to local municipalities and school districts to fill in the gaps that exist between wealthy and poor municipalities. This funding solution grew out of a state Supreme Court ruling, Abbott vs. Burke, that found New Jersey school funding did not result in equal education opportunity, as mandated by the State Constitution.

This vicious cycle of migration between rich and poor districts is a big reason for the educational funding disparity. It is the one usually mentioned by NJ state legislators and the press. But this cycle only exacerbates an underlying funding flaw. A wealth tax based on residential property values is incredibly regressive. 

I wrote another article about the regressive education taxes in New Jersey last year. The Governor's new School Aid plan only compounds the problem.

To show just how unfair residential wealth taxes are for funding public schools, consider that people who own million dollar homes almost always have significant other wealth investments and ownership interests that aren't being taxed to funding public schools.  The rich have far more wealth and investment income. On the other hand, people who own homes in economically depressed areas, people whose homes are well below the state average in value, have few investments or ownership stakes. Many of them have a negative net worth, almost no savings and many of them struggle to pay their monthly bills.

Most economists agree that a flat tax is a regressive tax. It favors the rich, but it is still far less regressive than the property tax scheme in New Jersey.  To illustrate, the table below looks at information from three actual New Jersey municipalities: a poor district, an modestly affluent district and a wealthy district. The number of students in these districts tell you that these aren't all K-12 districts, but the tax lesson here is still valid whether a district is a sending district or not.

Table 1

Hammonton and Margate are municipalities in Atlantic County and Stone Harbor is in Cape May County.  In all three districts the average tax bill is below the state average. Hammonton does a pretty good job of keeping per pupil costs down so it's residents can afford their property taxes.  It is a town where the average home value of $205k is significantly below the state average of nearly $400k. It is not an affluent community like Margate, or a wealth district like Stone Harbor where the average home sells for over a million dollars.

The average tax bill in Hammonton is just under $5,000 per year, almost half the state average. The $14,384 annual per/pupil cost of education is also below the $19,211 state average.  The low tax bill per resident is due, in part, to the fact that Hammonton receives $20 million dollars in State Aid. 

Despite all of their frugal budgeting to keep tuition costs down, and despite a good amount of state assistance, look at Hammonton's general property tax rate.  It is double the tax rate in Margate and more than five time higher than the tax rate in Stone Harbor. Hammonton's property tax rate is still well above the state average.

The residents of Margate and Stone Harbor pay a few thousand dollars more per year in property taxes, but they can well afford it. They pay less than the state average in property taxes yet spend far more than average in student tuition.  Even so, Margate currently receives $2.5 million in State Aid while the very wealthy Stone Harbor receives nearly a half-million dollars in State Aid.  Ironically, Under Governor Christie's plan, each of these three districts would receive substantially more State Aid, but this would come at the expense of the very poor urban districts, the so call "Abbott"  districts, where poverty levels are very high and property values are very low.

If instead of a flat State Aid rate for every student, Governor Christie proposed a flat property tax rate, and used additional revenue from wealth districts to fill funding gaps in poorer districts, how would that effect property taxes in these three communities?

Keeping in mind that a flat tax is still regressive, and that home values are not a good indicator of wealth ownership (it under represents the wealth of the wealthy) the table below shows what property taxes would look like if a flat property tax was implemented based on New Jersey's average property tax rate.  
Table 2

This exercise illustrates just how incredibly regressive the current property tax scheme is.  More affluent towns are paying a lower property tax rate and middle class communities are paying a higher rate. Even a flat property tax rate would double Margate's tax bill and more than quadruple Stone Harbors tax bill. A flat property tax rate would probably generate enough additional revenue to adequately fund and rehabilitate Abbott district schools and disadvantaged schools throughout the state.  A progressive property tax formula would go even further to fully fund New Jersey's public schools and give every child their constitutionally protected right to an equally good public education.  Giving the same amount of state aid to both the rich and poor isn't fair at all. A progressive wealth tax based on residential property values would be.

Below are the URL internet addresses for all of the data presented above.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Making Corrupt Politics Illegal

(I can't think of anything more important right now than the issue below. Even climate change cannot be fixed until we fix our democracy.)

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

For most American’s, democracy is dead. A Princeton study found that if over 90% of us really hate a bill or policy idea in Congress, it has about a 30% chance of passing. BUT, if over 90% of us really support a bill or policy idea in Congress… it has about a 30% chance of passing. Why? The system is corrupt. Our democracy is broken.

So here is a novel idea.Make corrupt political practices illegal. On the federal level alone the top 200 most politically active companies spend over $5.8 billion a year funding politicians (buying our democracy), often promising politicians high wage jobs after they leave office.  All of this allows the lobbyists to write the laws that congress actually passes, sometime without even reading the bills first. In exchange for all this political cash, these 200 politically active corporations receive over $4.4 trillion in favorable tax supports. That is equal to a 75,900% return on their political investments. It's a racket and it's all perfectly legal.

As the video below explains so well, that mean that 90% of everyone in the lower economic groups in America has "a minuscule, near zero, statistically insignificant." influence over what laws our representatives pass in the Federal Congress.

Watch this video that explains the finding of a scholarly study out of Princeton. [Note: prior link was incorrect. This is the corrected link]

Copy and paste link to your browser:

The creator of the above video have a possible solution which they explain in their second video, How to Fix Corruption in America. The fix is to make political corruption illegal though passage of a simple law. But getting anything passed in the Federal Congress to fix the way they do business now is impossible. So the strategy is to start by passing the law locally and then statewide so that federal representatives elected from these states aren't already tainted by corrupt politics. Once enough states pass the anti-corruption law, there will be enough congress people from those states to pass a federal anti-corruption law.  Here below is the video:

Copy and paste link to your browser:

And so, like all politics, the solution to make our voice count once again is in our hands if we act locally while thinking globally. All politics is local. Let's make local politics the place where we restore democracy in America.

If you are disturbed by these facts, please do your part in getting this information out to your friends across the internet. and get active locally to start turning things around. The level of political corruption is inversely proportional to the level of citizen involvement.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Mine Hill, Headwaters of the Lamington River

by Brian T. Lynch

Mine Hill is a geographically and environmentally important area in New Jersey because it is home to the headwaters of the North Branch of the great Raritan River, which flows into Raritan Bay at Perth Amboy.

The Raritan River Basin is 1,100 square miles of some of the most beautiful land in Northern New Jersey. It is the largest river basin contained entirely within New Jersey. It provides drinking water to millions of residents, including those who rely on the Round Valley and Spruce Run Reservoirs. The Raritan basin is divided into three watershed management areas. To the South and East is the Raritan Watershed Area containing the Raritan River itself, and both Green Brook and Lawrence Brook. Due South is the Millstone Watershed Area where waters run North from the confluence of the Stony Brook and Millstone Rivers. But the bulk of the waters are from the Northwest, which is divided into two main flows, the North Branch and the South Branch. The South Branch starts in Budd Lake and flows south towards High Bridge. It then makes a big loop to the East and back North where it joins up with the North Branch just South of Somerville. 

It is the North Branch of the Raritan River Basin that interests me, because it starts just West of Canfield Avenue. It floods some of the lush woodlands in the Green Acres area known as the Dickerson Tract and the Rutgers track that forms the headwaters of the Lamington River.

The Lamington may not be a household word for most of us. It is only a little noticed brook that runs out from the woods to cross Frank Street near George and First Streets. It then wanders behind some houses until it crosses Dickerson Mine Road to make a short passage into Mine Hill Lake.

If  you are standing on the Mine Hill Beach and look to the right you will see a point of land jutting out into the water. You are looking to the North end of the lake.  The Lamington River discharges into the lake a short ways up from that point.

Across the lake and due South is where water from the lake spills into Randolph Park. There is only a spit of land separating the two, as most old-timers know. But the Lamington River rejoins its bank earlier, just West of that spillway into Randolph Park. The Lamington flows parallel  to the far shoreline of the Southern tip of the lake.

South satellite view of Mine Hill Lake where a spillway carries water into Randolph Park pond. Lamington Riverbed reforms to the left of the Mine Hill Lake shoreline on the bottom left of the lake.  (Google Maps)

From there, the waters of the Lamington form wetlands that are home to a number of small lakes and ponds, Silver Lake, Horseshoe Lake, Black River Pond and others. As the Lamington River passes by Horseshoe Lake, several branches combine to flow South towards Chester. At this point the Lamington is known as the Black River. The Lamington does not regain its name again until it leaves Chester and enters (or leaves) Hackelbarney State Park. From there it continues South towards Lamington and beyond, where it finally joins up with the upper Raritan River  near the vicinity of White House, New Jersey.

Along the way, the Lamington (or Black River it is more commonly known in Morris County) passes through some of the most beautiful parts of the region and is home to wildlife refuge areas, lakes, ponds, state, county and municipal parks and beautiful walking trails. It is a favorite destination for game fishermen, kayakers and nature enthusiast. 

For more pictures of the Lamington River, check out the Black River Wildlife Management website at: