Assembly Budget Comm. advances higher-ed reorganization act

TRENTON – The Assembly Budget Committee late Monday released the higher-education reorganization bill after yet more amendments.

A3102, the bill that reshapes the state’s higher-education landscape, was approved in committee by a unanimous vote.

But the Senate Budget Committee last week had approved a different version, so the two will need to be reconciled.

Under the plan, the University of Medicine and Dentistry largely is absorbed by Rutgers University, while Rowan University in Glassboro acquires the School of Osteopathic Medicine.

University Hospital in Newark will be separate from the university and become principal teaching hospital of the N.J. Medical School.

The latest amendments addressed various governance issues, as well as holding Rutgers harmless for unforeseen UMDNJ liabilities, but co-sponsor John Wisniewski, (D-19), Sayreville, acknowledged that many unknowns will remain even after the deal is done.

Committee Vice Chair Gary Schaer, (D-36), Passaic, focused on a key unknown: cost.

Schaer asked Wisniewski bluntly if he knew how much this reorganization will cost, and Wisniewski said no.

Schaer listed some of the enormous expenses the state is incurring, including $1.6 billion for the Transportation Trust Fund and $330 million a year in debt, a FY2013 budget that includes about $183 million for a potential tax cut in January or February, and $750 million in a possible bond issue for building new classrooms at colleges and universities.

“I’m curious how we’re supposed to be paying for all of our good intentions,’’ he said, and in fact he voted yes to release the bill from committee but cautioned that in its present form he will not be able to support it.

Wisniewski acknowledged that cost is one of the “imponderables,’’ and referenced a fiscal note that suggested there will be revenue generated to offset costs.

“This transition will be paid for the way we pay for things now,’’ he told the committee, “as part of an appropriations act.”

He reminded the committee this will not take effect for a year and there will be due diligence in the meantime and eventually it will be part of the budget discussions for the succeeding fiscal year.

“I don’t know that it’s possible to move this and have an accurate number (now) about what it will cost.’’

Earlier story:

Assembly lawmakers want to keep ball rolling on higher-ed merger