State Budget Adds Over $8 Million for 20th District Schools, Lawmaker Says

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Assemblyman Jamel Holley, left, and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano.
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ELIZABETH, NJ - The city's two state Assembly representatives yesterday voted yes on a budget bill that will add over $8 million more in school funding for the 20th District, one local lawmaker said. 

Assemblyman Jamel Holley and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, both Democrats, voted in favor of the Horizon (A5129, S2) and budget (A5000, S-18) bills in the early morning hours yesterday. Gov. Chris Christie signed those bills and others, effectively ending the government shutdown.

"I supported the revised Horizon bill that Speaker [Vincent] Prieto and my Assembly colleagues created because it contains reasonable reforms that do not threaten the 3.8 million Horizon policyholders in the state with any premium increases or potential loss of coverage, as previous proposals did,” Assemblyman Holley said in a statement today. “I would like to thank Speaker Prieto for his leadership in this crisis, his courage in standing up to the Governor and his willingness to find a way forward that both benefits the 20th district, with over $8 million in combined additional school funding for Elizabeth, Hillside, Union and Roselle, and protects Horizon customers all over the state."

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Yesterday not only marked the end of the second government shutdown in New Jersey’s history, but also Assemblywoman Quijano’s birthday. She said the agreement on the bill does not punish Horizon’s policyholders.

“This is a fair compromise that protects Horizon ratepayers and our Democratic priorities in the budget,” Assemblywoman Quijano said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that the governor chose to use critical social services as bargaining tools, but I’m glad that after so many days of uncertainty and inconvenience for our residents, we have an agreement that keeps funding for these services in the budget without punishing Horizon’s policyholders. This was not an easy process, and I commend Speaker Prieto for standing his ground and fighting for what is right.”

The government shutdown arose over legislation that involved how the surplus of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, the state’s largest health insurer, would be used. Gov. Christie said he would sign the $34.7 billion budget after state Democrats voted to restructure the nonprofit insurance company.

Gov. Christie wanted that surplus to be used for opioid addiction treatment, a cause he’s been championing during his last few months in office. But Speaker Prieto called the original  Horizon bill an “unfair Christie tax on the insurer’s 3.8 million policyholders.”

Gov. Christie said he would not line-item veto $350 million in spending Democrats wanted in exchange for passing a Horizon bill that adds more transparency and regulation to the insurer.

A new deal was struck for the Horizon bill after top Democrat lawmakers met with Horizon’s CEO.

The new agreement caps Horizon's reserves and adds two directors to its board -- one appointed by the state Assembly and another appointed by the state Senate. Horizon will now be independently audited each year. The results of that audit will be posted on its website annually.

Meanwhile, the budget allocates funds for things including preschool expansion and transfers aid from schools with declining enrollment to schools with increasing enrollment. The Elizabeth schools' student population has increased by 3,848 pupils in the past five years, internal data says

Assemblyman Holley and Assemblywoman Quijano voted yes to the budget bill before the shutdown, on June 29. Both representatives for Elizabeth again voted yes on the budget bill when it went up for a vote yesterday.

Editor's note: This article was updated to explain that aid will be transferred from schools with declining enrollment to schools with growing enrollment. 

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