Dems take issue with 2 religious institutions on bond act project list

TRENTON – The fact that two religious schools are on a list of those eligible for bond act funds led to pointed questions by Sen. Loretta Weinberg that the state’s commissioner of Higher Education declined to answer today.

Weinberg repeatedly asked Rochelle Hendricks about the fact the Princeton Theological Seminary and Beth Medrash Govoha, of Lakewood, are on the list but Hendricks said she has been advised not to comment further on the issue.

Weinberg said the two institutions clearly have religious missions but are targeted for $10.6 million at Beth Medrash Govoha and $645,000 for Princeton Theological Seminary, and she asked several times how they got on the list and what the process was.

Hendricks several times said they met the criteria of access to the funds, but Weinberg said she realized they met the criteria, “But how did they get on this list? What are the criteria?”

Weinberg said to Hendricks: “There has to be a reason for that, and either you can share it with us or you choose not to.”

Hendricks said during the Budget Committee hearing that “I’ve been advised not to speak beyond the particulars that I have shared with you.”

Committee Chair Sen. Paul Sarlo said “We need to get answers,’’ because it appears that Princeton Theological Seminary is not eligible under a higher education technology infrastructure funding act.

Gov. Chris Christie sent to the Legislature last week a list of 176 projects totaling $1.3 billion. The voters approved last year a $750 million bond issue for eligible institutions to be able to build classrooms.

Sen. Nellie Pou tried to question Hendricks later in the day on the same issue, but Hendricks again said she would not comment further on advice of counsel because the process remains “deliberative.’’

Pou sought to question her about applications for bond funding that were not accepted, but when Hendricks said that she had said all she was going to say on the issue, Pou asked how can the committee members do their job when the key person, Hendricks, won’t answer questions.

Dems take issue with 2 religious institutions on bond act project list