If N.J. legalizes marijuana, Lavarro, Solomon propose dedicating local tax to JCPS

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If New Jersey decides to legalize marijuana at the polls on Tuesday as expected, Jersey City Councilmen Rolando Lavarro and James Solomon are proposing dedicating the related local tax to the public schools.

Photo via harmonydispensary.org.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“Funding our public schools is essential to building a fair and equal city for all. Ensuring tax revenue from marijuana is used for that purpose, and not political patronage, is extremely important,” said Solomon.

“I have repeatedly said ‘Show me your budget, and I’ll show you your priorities.’ With a local marijuana tax, we can do just that, providing a stable, dedicated funding source to our public schools, our students and their families, who have endured much turmoil and uncertainty over the past several years,” Lavarro added.

The marijuana legalization question says that the legislature can authorize municipalities to pass a local ordinance to tax marijuana products.

City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said today that Mayor Steven Fulop would support this measure.

“Mayor Fulop has dedicated more resources into the Jersey City Public School than any other mayor in the history of Jersey City, and the mayor remains committed to making sure that all children have an opportunity at a great education,” she said.

“The mayor is 100% supportive of dedicating the funds from the tax on marijuana towards the Jersey City school system.”

The budget woes of the Jersey City Public Schools have been well-documented: two years ago, the state cut funding to JCPS by $25 million per year for seven years, a cumulative reduction in state aid that will amount to $175 million.

While the board of education filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Education, as well as their Schools Development Authority, in 2019 alleging that the funding cuts are unconstitutional, that matter remains unresolved and is expected to take years.

While the city’s payroll tax enacted in 2018 has filled the initial shortfall, the funding gap grows wider with each passing year.

This year’s approved $736 million school budget came with a 39 percent tax levy hike in order to generate another $53 million in revenues for the school.

Additionally, Superintendent of Schools Franklin Walker announced at last night’s BOE meeting that the preliminary budget shortfall for the 2021-2022 scholastic year will be approximately $300 million – which would mean around $150 million from the payroll tax would be necessary.

In August, Lavarro and Solomon had proposed redirecting $1.5 million from the city’s public safety budget to the public schools, but that measure was voted down by the council.

School Board President Lorenzo Richardson didn’t take a firm stance one way or the other, but seemed to be open to having an open dialogue with city officials on the matter.

“The Jersey City Board of Education is looking forward to having a meaningful dialogue on local school funding with the city during these challenging times of economic uncertainty,” he said.