Got Orthonomics in your Email Box?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An A for Effort?

YWN is reporting that Rabbi Genack, of the OU, put out a letter in support of Governor Corzine's bid for re-election. The goal of the letter appears to be to explain to the Orthodox community why the Governor is best for the community, but the letter is rather puzzling to say the least.

For example, the Rabbi states that the Governor does not support private school vouchers on constitutional, policy, and financial grounds, he would be willing to put together a commission to look into how to support private school students. Correct me if I am mistaken, but New Jersey provides busing to private school students and New Jersey also gives small amounts per students for textbooks and other educational resources.

I view vouchers as almost a pipe dream, despite my ideological support for vouchers (i.e. parental choice in education and competition through the private market). But, nonetheless, every Orthodox group that is politically connected wants vouchers and claims it is a major issue! Officials in both the OU and the Agudah and people who write on the tuition issue have placed their hopes in solving the "tuition crisis" on vouchers. So why, pray tell, would you throw support behind a candidate who has clearly stated that he opposes vouchers? If vouchers are a top issue, endorsing candidates who are open to and/or supportive of vouchers, or at the very least are strong supporters of parental say in education, would seem to be more logical.

Secondly, my understanding is that New Jersey property tax is a huge financial burden. I can't even imagine being faced with property tax bills that exceed the annual payments on our first mortgage. The Rabbi gives the Governor a pat on the back because property taxes haven't risen in the past year as much as previous years writing "last year, the increase in property taxes across the State was the lowest in 10 years." I don't know if this letter was proofed before sending it out to those in the New Jersey Orthodox communities, but I can't see how a lower increase of an already massive burden is of any consolation to families that have seen their property taxes skyrocket. Having to work increased property taxes into an already strained budget wouldn't give me a reason to cheer.

Interesting enough, a school I know of also pointed out the same thing to parents in regards to the last tuition increase. Know your audience! Fine, you didn't raise tuition 7% like in previous years. The parents who are paying still feel soaked!

And speaking of knowing your audience, Rabbi Genack endorses the Governor because he has "delivered nearly $7 billion in property tax relief to New Jersey families. And, this year, even while he cut the budget, he preserved rebates for seniors and those who need it most – families with incomes $75,000 and below."

Now this letter didn't go out to families in blue collar neighborhoods or upwardly mobile lower to middle income neighborhood, it was directed at modern Orthodox families. Like honestly frum who is "disturbed" by the letter, I have to ask, how many families make a combined income of "only" $75,000? Certainly some families do. But the majority of the families receiving this letter that are desperate for some tax relief likely make into the six figures. Those families already carry a high tax burden at the federal and state level, and they would like some tax relief too, not an assurance that the Governor is trying and that he deserves an "A for effort" because the percentage increase wasn't as steep as in past years.

Know your audience is a prime rule in politics and public relations. Unless I am sorely mistaken, I can't imagine that Teaneck residents are going to be terribly impressed by a commission on how to help private schools while there have already been cutbacks, increased property taxes (even if the increases are lower than in past years, and proposed tax relief for households making less than $75,000*.

Letters like this make me wonder if those representing ours interests in the halls of government actually understand the difficulties being experienced.
Comments please.

*Note: This is not to endorse not granting tax relief to families making such an income, just a note that few families reading the letter will see the potential for relief as applicable to their household.


Miami Al said...

Because surveys rarely break out Jews by denomination, and Jews vote at least 70% Democratic in all elections, therefore, regardless of what he does, Corzine will get 70% of the Jewish vote. If Corzine wins, particularly a squeaker, the Rabbi looks like he is a player and has influence. If Corzine loses, there are plenty of Orthodox Rabbis than can lobby for access based upon their subgroup.

Honestly Frum said...

SL, thank you for the link. I am pretty hooked into the Teaneck community and can tell you that for the most part we are all strongly throwing our support behind Cristie. I am not sure what Rabbi Genack hoped the letter would accomplish. One thing that I will say for Corzine is that he has made efforts to reach out to our community whereas the other side has not done nearly as good a job. However it boils down to 2 basic things in our community (which essentially are 1) who is going to be more supportive of more funds and tax cuts going to private school and who is going to keep our taxes down? Under Corzine most of us have seen our property taxes go up by at least a quarter with others doubling and school funding through the unions doubling. In that same time, as I pointed out as does R' Genacks's letter $7MM in technology funding has been pulled from private schools resulting in a net loss to our community.

It is very nice that Corzine NOW wants to look at ways he can help our communities tuition burden but he has been asleep at the wheel (or worse) until now, and he is in bed with the unions. It's time to change leadership in NJ.

It is very nice for this Rabbi to throw his support behind a candidate but I am afraid on the issue which most affects our community he is on the wrong side of the issue and only endorsing him because of the letter next to his name.

Anonymous said...

Why are they taking a position on the election? I am uncomfortable with clergy getting involved in politics, except perhaps for commenting on specific issues directly relating to their religious mission, but someone with the title "rabbi" "priest" or "minister" may wish to stay away from endorsing or opposing specific candidates.

Orthonomics said...

The Rabbi made his endorsement as a private citizen (good thing, because doing otherwise is a quick way to lose a non-profit status). I don't care for outright endorsement by clergy, but I do think giving politicians a platform to speak to the Orthodox community is something we should do more of.

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean to suggest that the Rabbi was acting in a capacity other than as a private citizen, or that there was anything improper tax status wise. I also realize there is a difference between pulpit clergy and the non-pulpit clergy, but the title "Rabbi" is still there.

Anonymous said...

If we're smart, we should be smart voters too and take these kinds of endorsements with a grain of (kosher) salt.

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Genack and the Governor go way back. This is not a sudden, fly-by-night alliance of convenience.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan of Rabbis endorsing candidates as such endorsements inevitably appear as if the Rabbis are giving a Torah or Jewish perspective to the election. In fact, the Rabbis are just ordinary citizens in this regard, such that the a Rabbi's endorsement is no more insightful than my endorsement. I'd prefer for the Rabbis to deal with Halachic or community issues where they do have more to offer.

Irrespective of this, my thoughts are that voting for Corzine is a continuaton of the status quo, which is hardly good. NJ has the highest property tax burdens in the nation, largely because NJ has more municipalities than any other state in the nation. California has over 4 times the population of NJ, and almost 20 times the land area of NJ, but NJ has more municipalities.

Why are so many municipalities? It's a way of getting more people and relatives jobs in duplicative school systems, police forces, city halls, etc. Can anyone explain why Teaneck/Bergenfield/New Milford/Englewood/Tenafly/Leonia are all separate and can't be combined? can you imagine how much money the taxpayers would save if you combined the municipal functions of these places? Alas, that would inevitably mean duplicative services would be gotten rid of, and public employees would be let go.

Corzine certainly won't do anything to reduce the number of municipalities as he's in the pocket of the public employee unions. Christine will be severely hamstrung if he tries because of the entrenched bureaucracies but he might at least try. But if Rabbi Genack and the Orthodox population still think Corzine will do a better job, that's fine; except I don't think he represents the Torah perspective any more than Christie does.

Charlie Hall said...

New Jersey may have high property taxes, but overall its taxes are #7 if you rank states per capita and #23 if you rank based on % of GDP. This is according to the Federation of Tax Administrators.

As far as vouchers, they are what Republicans have been promising for decades and have never delivered. And they can't because there is zero public support for them -- every voucher referendum ever held in America has lost badly, usually by landslide margins. James Madison wins every time.

Anonymous 10:52pm, however, cites the real issue: The huge number of municipalities, school districts, and the like. We have the same problem here in NY, where Westchester County alone has twice the number of school districts as the entire state of Maryland. But for some reason every attempt to consolidate school districts runs up against massive voter opposition. Voters apparently like paying high taxes unnecessarily.

Charlie Hall said...

I just confirmed that New Jersey is one of the very small number of states without a Blaine Amendment, so it actually *could* set up a voucher program. Republicans controlled the state government from 1994 to 2002 but did not do anything about the issue. It should also be noted that a voucher program would necessitate a substantial tax increase.

There was an attempt to repeal New York's Blaine Amendment in 1967 but it failed badly -- the vote was 1,327,999 in favor and 3,487,513 against.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:52: I'm not an expert on NJ constitutional law, but I very much doubt that a governor can do away with or consolidate municipalities and school districts, just like the president and congress can't decide to consolidate some states. Could you imagine Obama deciding that it would be more efficient to merge Delaware, Maryland and NJ? How about combining North Dakota and South Dakota to get rid of duplicate state government functions? Of course not. It can't be done. I suspect the only way to get rid of school districts would, for example, be for the voters in two districts to vote to merge. You will need to fight this battle at the local level and propose that your town merge into the neighboring one.

Tova said...

Ugh. I don't mind it when my rav gets a bit political, but outright endorsements seem out-of-place at the pulpit.

Anyway, SephardiLady, here's my analysis of your blog. I hope you like it! Please leave your thoughts on it:

Miami Al said...

Here in Florida, our school districts are by County. A combination of a small rural state that grew big (especially in a few areas) and the legacy of forced desegregation. Those of you not under the legacy of the Civil Rights Movements are still allowed to have racially segregated schools as long as you do it by city and keep black people out of white cities like happens in the "liberal" north east.

Looking at it as entrenched interests of unions is foolish... the establishment doesn't want minorities in their school system, so they keep all these little districts to keep their taxes for their local school instead of sharing the wealth. The savings from duplication would let you boost schools with large minority populations, and the liberal New Jersey residents wouldn't want that...

Anonymous said...

Miami Al: I don't know about NJ, but in many states, the state government subsidizes lower income school districts to equalize funding across districts. Americans have always been passionate about local control of schools, so I don't see a lot of mergers happening. It's not just about keeping out the perceived riffraff like you suggest. However, because schools have a big effect on home values, districts with great stats on test scores % of students going to four year colleges, etc. are not going to want to merge with districts with lower scores because it will water down the scores and perceived quality of the schools.

Ariella said...

About rabbinic endorsements: we just received a letter signed by a number of area rabbi and some people who are probably prominent machers, telling us which candidate to vote for. Interestingly, though, there was no official letterhead or even a return address on the envelope. The words of endorsement are "Howard is well-qualified to serve as our County Legislator -- our community's advocate. . . In addition, Howard has been a member of the Board of Directors of numerous community organization including Congregation Shaaray Tefila, Tag, and the Valley Stream Chamber of Commerce."

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:52 PM here.

Anon 8:00 AM: Obviously I'm not either an expert in NJ state law regarding what it takes to merge municipalities and most likely the governor can't wave his magic wand and combine some towns. But it's also likely there are a number of things that can be done to either encourage municipalities to merge or twist their arms into doing so(The laws regarding states are wholly separate and no, one could just combine North & South Dakota.)

But I can't say enough about how this "Municipality Madness" is driving the state into the sinkhole. Do you have any idea how much the state has in unfunded pension & retiree healthcare liabilities? It's in the tens of BILLIONS. These liabilities will keep property and income taxes on an ever increasing spiral upwards.(Other states are also in the sinkhole, but NJ is one of the worst) Maybe having so many municipalities has its benefits, but the state hasn't yet figured out how to pay for it. See I just learned that Bergen County has 68 freakin fire chiefs. 68 fire chiefs?!?!?!?!

Coming full circle: If Rabbi Genack really believes that Corzine will do a better job as governor, fine, I respect that. But his opinion on this political matter does not represent a Torah or Halachic opinion any more than the opinion of the guy who sits in the back row of shul and tends to drink too much at the kiddush.

megapixel said...

first off, in Lakewood, where I live, I would venture to say that there are TONS of families in the under 75G category. and Lakewood is probably bigger than the Bergen Cty jewish community.
secondly, I work with school districts across the country and in most states each district covers several COUNTIES. in NJ, each TOWNSHIP has their own district!! so imagine the duplication going on there, esp. since the school districts are so top heavy with administrators etc. dismantling this system would save tons of money on property taxes which largely fund the schools. Unfortunately in NJ the bluest of blue states, this will never happen cuz they are all union people. Certainly not under corzine who is in bed (literally) with union heads.
third, I heard a quote of corzine's re: some issue (i forgot which but it doesnt really matter) and I am paraphrasing--
"I think I can do something to fix it" DUDE! you have been in office FOUR years. why havent you done something till now?
Fourth, my policy - unless a politician has done something really great while in office
VOTE OUT INCUMBENTS!! dont let them make a career out of politics when they are no good at it. You fire your employees who are not doing the job--why wouldnt you fire your governor and reps in congress if they are not doing the job for you?
sadly, I fear corzine will win again cuz a: the messiah (obama) is coming again to push for him and b: everyone I vote for loses, and I plan to vote for Christie

Larry Lennhoff said...

It is interesting so many people are in favor of merging NJ municipalities and school districts while opposition to merging our own yeshivot and day schools is high. I suspect that the same forces are in play in both cases.

Charlie Hall said...


Great point. One reason NYC has such low property taxes is that we have huge schools. The four public high schools nearest to where I live have enrollments of 1264, 2060, 2670, and 4398. (These are not typos.) There are huge economies of scale to be gained.

Anonymous said...

I would just add that NJ, especially northern NJ, has a great deal of population density. In my city there is one HS with a population of about 2400. My own NJ public HS (graduated in 1984) had a graduating class of about 2000.

Miami Al said...

In Broward County, Florida, the high schools generally have around 3000 students, 2000-4000 depending on region, and a single principal and 2+ assistants depending. There is a county wide school board, with a super intendant and staff.

The buses are organized by region, I think that county is in three zones, and they are dispatched from those locations to the various areas and various schools.

That's not to say that there is no waste or mismanagement in our schools, they are pretty mediocre. However, our taxes are low and our per-pupil spending is pretty low. I think that we get a decent product for not a lot of money, and those with money opt out for private schooling and everyone else gets a decent if mediocre education.

Anonymous said...

"decent if mediocre education" doesn't exactly sound like a ringing endorsement; would you be satisfied if your kids were going to these schools?

Miami Al said...

Tesyaa, if you want a good education, you pay for it. As tax payers, we provide a decent but mediocre education, I'm okay with that setup.

The retirees don't want to support education, they come here for low taxes, and the low taxes attract retirees that spend their social security checks, pensions, and retirement funds.

The upper middle class use private schools. The middle class can get their kids a decent education, particularly if augmented with extra curricular activities. We have a large immigrant population, poor communities, etc.

There are some great charters, good Catholic schools, etc. for those that want to make the extra effort (charters don't provide busing, for example) to get their kids an education. Everyone else is getting taught at least to the level of passing the FCATs.

NJyite said...

It doesn't have to make sense. Rabbi Genack is a very able administrator and a fine talmid chacham, but for some reason I have never been able to understand, he is a political hack for the democratic party. Corzine could openly declare his hatred of Jews and threaten to expel us all from NJ and Rabbi Genack would still come out in support of him. Take it with a grain of salt.

Bob Miller said...

Typically we get nowhere with vouchers because voters and politicians in general assume we want them for our good and not the public good. Demonstrating otherwise persuasively requires a really airtight financial analysis.