The four Democratic 31st Legislative District Assembly candidates squaring off in the fast-approaching June 6 primary election debated topics such as school and pension funding, PARCC testing and a Jersey City casino last night.
The debate, hosted by the Black Interest Team Enterprise and Political Insider at Public School No. 20 in Jersey City, was moderated by E. Assata Wright and Esther Wintner.
On the topic of bail reform, Assemblyman Nick Chiaravalloti said he feels that is has been successful so far.
“I think bail reform so far is successful. Okay, it’s not perfect, we need to go back and tweak it,” he began.
“But it’s successful and the reason it’s successful is before this was enacted, basically bail, whether you were sent to prison or not, was determined by the size of your wallet.”
Discussing the state pension crisis, candidate Kristen Zadroga Hart said that she didnâ€™t think it should be optional for the governor to make payments and a millionaireâ€™s tax could go a long way for the working class.
“Let me start off by saying I’ve been a teacher for 23 years and I have never missed a single pension payment out of my paycheck and I don’t think it’s fair that the state has missed theres,” she said to applause.
“I think there are a few ways to address the issue. I think demanding that the payments are made is Step 1. Paying into the pension system should not be optional by the governor. I think another option is a millionaire’s tax. I think millonaires should have to pay their fair share into the system.”
Additionally, all four panelists agreed that although the issue has been lingering, the state pension system should not be federalized.
Speaking about the state school funding formula, candidate/Bayonne Board of Education Trustee Christopher Munoz also called for a millionaireâ€™s tax, as well as for school districtâ€™s to get 40 percent of the revenue that comes from tax abatements.
“All tax abatements: they must be treated like typical property tax, a 40 percent split for education. Now I know that there is a proposal by Assemblyman Chiaravalloti for five percent,” he said.
“Well, we tried that in Bayonne, the city council tried that in Bayonne – the Resnick’s property. If it would’ve been a 40 percent split, we would’ve received $8.2 million for our property. Instead, under Assemblyman Chiaravalloti’s proposal, we got $177,000 over 30 years.”
Chiaravalloti responded by stating that his legislation makes 5 percent the bare minimum and it is up to the municipalities if they choose to go above and beyond that.
Giving her thoughts on how tax abatements could only be given to blighted and depressed areas as they were originally intended, Assemblywoman Angela McKnight said that although cityâ€™s should not be faulted for using the tools the state has given them, abatement policies should change with the times.
“So with the abatements, we can’t get mad, and I’ll say it again, we can’t get mad at city’s for using the tools that the state has given them. However, we should begin to look at them again and see how we can fix them with the time,” she stated.
While all four candidates opposed having PARCC testing in public schools, Hart said there needs to be some form of standardized testing for teachers to gauge where their students are at.
Towards the tail end of the debate, where audience questions were read by the moderators, every panelist was in agreement that whether or not a North Jersey casino comes to Jersey City should be left up to the voters.
“If my constituents support it, then I support it,” McKnight said.
“At the end of the day, I think it needs to be decided by public referendum,” stated Chiaravalloti, who weighed the pros and cons of the project.
“I would agree to a public referendum when it comes to the casino,” added Hart, who further stated she personally wouldn’t mind a casino in Jersey City if it was done responsibly.
“I’m very interested to see if the voters would support it, and if they do, then I would support it as well,” Munoz rationalized, voicing concerns over poorer communities being short-changed by such a project.