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N.J. voters OK most school budgets

Associated Press / April 29, 2011

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EVESHAM, N.J. — A year after an antitax revolt took its toll on school budgets, New Jersey voters have returned to their more generous ways in the state’s one-of-a-kind school tax elections.

According to an unofficial but complete tally by the New Jersey School Boards Association, 429 of the 538 budgets up for a vote — or 80 percent — were adopted in elections statewide Wednesday as a rigid new cap was put in place to control tax hikes.

Most years, less than one-fifth of the state’s voters participate in school elections. Besides voting for school board candidates, citizens in most towns can approve or reject the property tax bill for their school districts. It is the best chance New Jersey citizens have to have a direct say on their property taxes, which average more than $7,000 a year — by far the nation’s highest.

Even though grumbling about property taxes is practically the state’s pastime, the majority are usually approved. Those that are rejected are trimmed by municipal governing bodies.

Last year, the norms were turned around. Governor Chris Christie, a budget-cutting Republican, urged voters to reject spending plans in districts where teachers’ unions did not accept voluntary pay freezes and hikes in health insurance payments.

The governor, who is in a long-running war of words with the state’s teachers’ unions, argued that educators were not doing enough to share the sacrifice of a lousy state economy that was forcing cuts to many government services.

The voters largely agreed with him, rejecting nearly 60 percent of budget plans — the most in at least 34 years.

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