TRENTON – As was the case last year, Gov. Chris Christie received a Democratic-constructed budget…And like last year, he applied a lot of red ink to it before signing it.
Christie cut funding on Friday for many of the extra items Democrats added early last week, such as aid to distressed towns, nursing homes, health care programs, and at-risk youth programs. He also struck down towns’ bid to reclaim energy tax receipts funds.
He did keep in some of the items the Democrats requested, though not in full, such as after-school programs and legal help for poor people.
But Christie did cut many programs and pet projects dear to Democrats’ hearts, such as a foreclosure rescue program, affordable housing programs, the Urban Enterprise Zone state funding restoration, and the Earned Income Tax Credit, among others.
After the budget vote earlier this week, the Legislature on Thursday voted on the biggest – and perhaps ultimately the more far-reaching issue … the proposed reorganization involving Rutgers University, Rowan University and the University of Medicine and Dentistry.
The vote didn’t come easily though, as there was a lot of behind-the -scenes drama, lasting for hours. Amendments came fast and furious and produced complaints from lawmakers that they had insufficient time to study them.
But ultimately, enough votes were collected from Republicans and Democrats to pass through the incarnation of a project Gov. Christie declared had to be approved by July 1.
Under the plan, the much-maligned University of Medicine and Dentistry largely is absorbed by Rutgers University, while Rowan University in Glassboro acquires the School of Osteopathic Medicine.
Also, Rutgers University-Camden gains some autonomy from the flagship campus in New Brunswick by not being totally absorbed by Rowan as the original proposal called for. There will be a joint board of directors with limited scope.
University Hospital in Newark will be separate from the university and become principal teaching hospital of the N.J. Medical School.
The plan, whose true costs even its backers acknowledge remain unknown, would give a boost to Southern New Jersey, creating the opportunity for Rowan to develop into a first-class research institution through its new Cooper medical school.
In addition, Northern New Jersey would see Rutgers’ ranking in the research field take a huge step forward as well.
Making the case that the state’s public colleges and universities are strapped for space, Speaker Sheila Oliver, (D-34), of East Orange, spoke about the need to give residents a say in determining if they want their tax dollars devoted toward expanding the schools.
Oliver said the schools are bursting at the seams and it’s time to give voters a chance to vote on this issue. It is a tool they have not had available to them since 1988.
Legislators apparently agreed with her – at least all but one of them.
The bond act authorizing $750 million received a “yes” vote from everyone besides Assemblyman Jay Webber, (R-26), of Morris Plains.
The measure also cleared in the Senate.
It will provide bonding to help build purely academic facilities such as classrooms and laboratories. It cannot be used for dorms or athletic facilities, however.
Transportation Trust Fund
The Transportation Trust Fund will once again be enhanced, though not by the pay-as-you-go approach that so many politicians have always said is the main goal. Instead, they will do it the old-fashioned way… they are going to borrow the money to beef it up. The measure calls for $3.4 billion through 2016 for various road and bridge projects.
The landmark teacher tenure reform bill sponsored by Sen. Teresa Ruiz, (D-29), of Newark, came under some scrutiny when various stakeholders pointed out it lacked a key provision that Christie has called for in his education reform agenda, to weaken the “last in first out” procedure that rules in the hiring and firing process of teachers.
But by the end of the week, it remained unknown how Christie will react to the bill. Its sponsors, however, remained confident it would be signed.