Part II of Meet the Leader Series on Republican State Senator Joseph Pennacchio includes Pennacchio’s political career and more. Click HERE to read Part I focusing on Pennacchio's personal life.
MONTVILLE, NJ - When asked how he get involved in Morris County politics, Pennacchio stated that because he had a successful dental practice, he had the opportunity to do a lot of networking, which got him involved in running for Morris County Freeholder in 1999. There were 14 people running to fill three seats. Pennacchio won, and this was his first public office.
Pennacchio served on the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders from 1999 to 2001. He served as freeholder liaison to the county administration and finance offices and was deputy liaison to the county's Department of Human Services.
As Freeholder, Pennacchio started the Kids First program in Morris County, which highlights and addresses children's issues.
The Senator also helped to strengthen the county’s economy by establishing a $75 million economic growth fund.
He is proud of his work as legislator acquiring 400 excess acres of land from the campus of the state’s Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital. The land has been converted into a public recreation park. It is now called the Central Park of Morris County.
Pennacchio points to a fully accessible playground and a ballfield called Challenger Field for the handicapped. He credits the Freeholders and said that this shows “a great level of state and county stewardship especially for the most vulnerable.”
Senator Pennacchio also is very satisfied with his work involving the Kinship Legal Guardianship Law, which provides financial help to people caring for their grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or other children.
Legislation was established allowing court awarded kinship legal guardianship status, which makes it easier for family members to become legal guardians of children. This legislation has become a national model.
Pennacchio passed legislation that allows giving county surrogates the option of depositing minors’ funds in any federally insured bank within the United States. This opened up banking competition within the entire nation and offers earnings at a higher rate of interest.
After serving as Morris County Freeholder, Pennachio was elected to the New Jersey State Assembly from 2001 to 2008. He then was elected to represent the 26th District from the New Jersey State Senate on Jan. 8, 2008 and was re-elected in 2011 and 2013. He has been assigned to the Senate Transportation Committee and named to the Senate Republican Leadership Team as Assistant Republican Leader.
Pennacchio is actively involved in Fair School Funding. He is on the bipartisan committee and is vice-chairman of the Senate Select Committee on School Funding Fairness.
Pennacchio is calling on the legislature to fix the state’s unfair school funding formula.
According to his website, he issued the following statement: “Since entering the legislature in 2001, my and many of my colleagues’ overriding issue has been a fair distribution of the state’s portion of school funding. My children in my district are worth no less than any other child in New Jersey. I understand and accept that circumstances dictate additional aid for some school districts, mostly in our urban areas. I accept that. What I do not accept is a political education formula that is dictated more by a zip code and what legislative district a child lives in. This has allowed 22 percent of the state’s students in 31 districts to receive 60 percent of the state’s funds while the remaining 544 districts fight for scraps. It’s not fair and not acceptable.”
Pennacchio cited these points: “There are “pre-K services, where millionaires can send their children to pre-K programs subsidized by the state, a gaming of the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) and abatement programs, which are not reflected in the school aid formula, an abused breakfast program dependent on the Department of Agriculture to oversee eligibility, which is only able to audit at best4 percent of the cases, a state formula based on a census taken in October, and yet, when 10 percent of children are chronically absent, schools still receive a full school year’s worth of funding, disproportionate levels of spending in places like Asbury Park that spends $33,000 per pupil while the state average is less than $18,000, a formula which does not see or treat our most-vulnerable children with special education needs as equals but shamefully segregates them once again by zip code and finally a graduation rate in those highly funded districts that any person of reason could see as unacceptable.”
According to the senator, 20 percent of public school students get 60 percent of all the aid. He said that in Montville that amount is down to 2.5 percent.
Pennacchio has stated, “I cannot in good conscience stand by another minute while this legislature abdicates its responsibility. This legislature needs the political and, more importantly, moral courage to right this wrong. My children, all our children, deserve better.”
The senator said that Morris County residents pay a lot in state income tax, and they are getting hurt. He said, “I believe I have been a strong and consistent voice in the fight for our fair share.”
The senator is also aggressively fighting for all special education needs being paid for by the state and not by individual school districts.
Pennacchio is committed to fully funding the state’s pension system. He has introduced legislation creating “racinos” i.e. allowing slot machine parlors at state racetracks. He believes it is necessary to think outside the box if this problem is going to be solved. The bill would allow gambling profits to go directly toward the state’s pension system.
He brought up the fact that the nine racinos in New York generated more tax revenue than all of Atlantic City and Las Vegas casinos combined. He said the New York model works. Allowing racinos in New Jersey would generate hundreds of millions of extra dollars annually to support the underfunded pension systems without raising taxes or diverting funds from any other programs or services.
The senator also voted against a NJ death tax. He said these taxes are driving people out of the state, and an inheritance tax is “unfair.”
Pennacchio was against the raising of the gas tax. He believes the tax was not properly vetted. He said, “New Jersey has the highest cost in America when it comes to construction and maintenance of roads. None of the cost drivers were ever addressed. No master plan was presented. I could not in good conscience vote to increase peoples taxes without being able to assure them that their money was begin spent wisely.”
The senator has been on the forefront for government transparency and believes the job of the government is to help people and to be moral, honest, and transparent while doing so. His efforts helped bring a comprehensive, inclusive website to New Jersey. However, he continues to fight for a state website that would show taxpayers exactly how each and every dollar is being spent in a timely, user friendly way. It is a useful tool in cutting wasteful and questionable spending. His legislation would also bring transparency to all levels of government.
Ending on a lighter note, when asked what is one thing that most people do not know about you, Pennacchio stated that in 1973 as a senior in high school, he was a short lived Golden Gloves boxer. He said, “My head was too big, and my arms were too short.”
Pennacchio loves being with his family, playing golf, reading, and being involved in politics. He is also very proud of his staff Amy, Roe and Pat, who have been working for him 16, 12 and 12 years respectively.
On June 6, Joseph Pennacchio is unopposed in the New Jersey State Senate District 26 Republican primary election.
Elliot Isibor is unopposed in the New Jersey State Senate District 26 Democratic primary election. Both will battle it out in November.