One of the questions before New Jersey voters this November is whether or not to approve a $750 million bond issue to renovate the state’s colleges and universities. While the measure has gotten support from the education community and some lawmakers, Sen. Michael Doherty (R-23) told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he believes the state already has too much debt and opposes borrowing more money. Though he did say he was glad the issue was being put to the voters.
“I just think debt is too high at all levels of government,” Doherty said. “If you look at the federal government, we just surpassed $16 trillion in debt. According to New Jersey reports, we have $40.5 billion in debt in New Jersey and many of our colleges have tremendous debts right now. Rutgers University — $1.2 billion in debt. UMDNJ — over $500 million in debt.” He added that the debt levels of colleges in the state show that the schools have been borrowing money and expanding.
Doherty said a lot of construction has been occurring at campuses throughout New Jersey, citing 12 pages of bond issues that have occurred over the last few years that he found from the state’s authority for higher education that helps colleges borrow money.
He also said the benefits of such borrowing need to outweigh the costs. “I think we have to look out for all the residents of the state of New Jersey and you have to ask yourself a question,” Doherty said. “Is this gonna lower tuition for our college students when we borrow another $750 million? Is it going to lower the property tax bill for the struggling families in New Jersey? The answer to me is no.”
Supporters of the bond issue have said since interest rates are currently low, it’s a good time to borrow. But Doherty said spending money the state doesn’t have isn’t a good idea. “Our colleges are struggling because they do have too much debt so I think it’s wrong. It’s the wrong time to be borrowing more money,” he said.
According to Doherty, New Jersey institutions of higher learning don’t receive a lot of money from the state because much of the money must go to the K-12 education system. “A few years ago, we had $500 million extra that came up in the budget due to more economic activity, maybe some less spending under Gov. Christie and you know what happened, Mike? The Supreme Court said, ‘Ah, you have $500 million.’ They ordered all of that $500 million to go to the K-12 schools,” he explained.
If the governor had discretion, Doherty said more higher education projects might get funded. “But we don’t have that discretion so the people of New Jersey need to realize much of our decision making has been hijacked by the New Jersey Supreme Court,” he said. “So that’s one area where I think we need to have some reform.”