Sweeney touts higher-ed bond issue, minimum wage hike, more at bankers’ meeting

TRENTON – Senate President Steve Sweeney championed the higher-education bond issue referendum today, telling the N.J. Bankers Association it is long overdue.

Sweeney told the Association during its annual Legislative Day at the Masonic Temple here that it is the main issue the state needs to focus on as election day nears.

The state will have a question on the ballot for approval of a $750 million bond issue to help public colleges and universities build new classrooms and laboratories. The last such investment was in 1988.

But Sweeney told the audience that there is a concern that the only voters who most often pay attention to ballot questions once they are in the voting booth are those who are opposed to the question.

“We’re going to push real hard and ask you to talk to your employees,’’ Sweeny told the bankers. “We’re asking all industries to push and support this.”

The state is paying the consequences for decades of disinvestment in higher education, he said.

“We are the number one exporter of kids in New Jersey,” Sweeney said.  “Thirty-five thousand kids adds up to $7 billion, conservatively speaking.”

“We force them out. When they leave most of them don’t come back. We chase them out of here,’’ said Sweeney, and he reminded the Association that this initiative is a bipartisan effort.

Sweeney summarized other issues for the Association that he said are important as well:

*Foreclosure of abandoned properties is one issue that lacks bipartisan support. Sweeney championed Sen. Ray Lesniak’s bill that would accelerate transformation of such lots into affordable housing.

“The governor refuses to sign the bill,’’ Sweeney said. “It only hurts us as we want to shrink all these foreclosed homes and get them back on the market.”

*A push for a constitutional amendment to hike the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour, an issue Sweeney, with a laugh, told the Association will “go over like a lead brick here.”

“In my book, it raises the bar for everyone,’’ he told the Association. “The people we’re giving increases to aren’t running to the bank, they’re putting dollars back into the economy.”

*Shared services.

“We still have too much government in this state,’’ he said.

He said the 2 percent tax hike cap – plus cracking down on ‘fees’ that towns seek to use to sidestep the cap – will benefit taxpayers.

“We’ve proved it works,” he said, and that towns can reduce costs, share functions, and do it without sacrificing services.

Sweeney touts higher-ed bond issue, minimum wage hike, more at bankers’ meeting