As boss of lobby group, Bilik spent millions
Assembly candidate Marie Bilik told reporters and taxpayers at two different debates yesterday that she wasn't a lobbyist. She denied it at both the WRNJ radio morning debate and the Skylands Tea Party debate later that evening.
Well, maybe she thinks we are all stupid, but here is a newspaper article from five years ago that explains who Bilik worked for, what she did, and who she is, pretty darn well. It was written by the Bergen Record's Elise Young. It appeared on the front page of that newspaper on June 20, 2010. The headline read:
SCHOOL LOBBY SPENDS MILLIONS
The publicly financed lobby for New Jersey's school boards is spending millions to renovate its Trenton headquarters, even as local districts face massive state aid cuts, defeated budgets and construction proposals, and pending teacher layoffs.
The New Jersey School Boards Association collects more than $7 million a year from 588 member districts, which are legally required to join. It has socked away so much in dues and conference fees -- $12.3 million, an amount greater than the group's annual operating budget -- that it is paying cash for the improvements.
It also paid $1.6 million in cash for 10 suburban acres where it had hoped to build an $18 million conference center. But the board abandoned that plan and put the land back on the market.
The headquarters renovation's most recent projected cost was $6.3 million. But that figure could grow an additional $600,000 to $1 million, as the contractor decides whether to fix or replace the building's walls of glass windows, officials said. In the meantime, its 70 employees -- including five lobbyists paid to influence legislation -- are working in leased office space.
Critics say the spending sets a bad example, particularly when New Jersey government and taxpayers are telling schools to cut back.
In April, voters passed just 41 percent of local school budgets, the lowest approval rate since 1976. Voters also rejected three of seven proposed multimillion-dollar construction projects and denied permission to all six districts that had sought to exceed state spending caps.
Even grimmer: The proposed fiscal 2011 state budget calls for $820 million less state aid to districts, and thousands of teachers potentially will be laid off if districts don't cut spending and dip into their surpluses.
"We shouldn't be building in an economy like this, period," said Jerry Cantrell, president of the New Jersey Taxpayers Association. "They should have found some usable space and taken advantage of it. It's taxpayer money, whether it's coming directly out of the taxpayer pocket or through some other mechanism, like the school board."
But association officials defend the improvements, saying the staff will work more efficiently, provide better state-ordered training to trustees and offer more guidance to school boards, which are entrusted with spending the bulk of municipal property taxes.
"We'll walk away with a state-of-the-art building and no debt," said Marie Bilik, the executive director.
Bilik also said the group is mindful of districts' financial troubles. Last month it reduced dues 5 percent and offered other savings. Those discounts, however, come after dues have been increased by 73 percent over the past 10 years.
You read that right. Under Marie Bilik, local school boards were made to spend 73 percent more than they had ten years before. But wait, it gets worse...
The School Boards Association has come under some criticism in recent months, after The Record reported that its staff is enrolled in the state-run health and pension systems even though they are not government employees. Workers at two other Trenton lobbying groups -- the Association of Counties and the League of Municipalities -- also are in the programs as a result of 1950s legislation that declared they were acting in the public interest.
In all, New Jerseyans will fund retirement payouts and lifetime health benefits for 107 non-government employees with combined pensionable salaries of $7 million. Right now, taxpayers are giving $1.3 million a year to 62 retirees of the groups. Governor Christie has said the benefits arrangement must end.
So now you know. Not only did she run a lobby group, she got a taxpayer-funded state pension deal out of it.