Gov. Chris Christie’s college merger plan has drawn criticism from some who say there isn’t enough information and those who oppose a merger of Rutgers-Camden into Rowan University. Sen. Ronald Rice (D-28) says there isn’t enough information about the plan and also believes the idea is part of a larger plan to privatize public entities. He sat down with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider to discuss his views.
Rice held a meeting of Essex County Democrats in Newark today to hear from the public about what they believe should happen to the University of Medicine and Dentistry (UMDNJ). He said there is little information about the plan, which is why the Rutgers University Board of Trustees rejected the proposal. He said the UMDNJ board doesn’t have information about it either.
While he’s unsure if information is being hidden, Rice said more study needs to be done before a large-scale merger is completed. “You cannot do a merger as proposed by the governor in a matter of a short period of time without doing what is known as true cost/benefit analysis. There’s been no financial audit of all the institutions involved. There’s been no audit of the capital needs of those institutions,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that you have to do, that take a lot of people coming together. You’re talking about something that will take at least a couple years just to get all your facts together in terms of transitioning.”
Rice said George Norcross is involved in the proposal as a way to build his businesses, not to enhance healthcare or higher education. Rice said Norcross should be honest about his intentions.
Privatization of public entities is the ultimate goal, according to Rice. “You can see that movement taking place. It’s big money business and that’s the bottom line and I think people are aware of it,” he said. “Even if you read their documents, they tell you, ‘We’re going to buy up all the mass media and we’re going to control the conversation in communications.’ They’ve built an infrastructure network, the people in this movement.”
When asked if he thought it was a conspiracy, Rice said, “It’s not a conspiracy, it’s a reality.”
Rice said he believes the odds are the merger proposal won’t happen. He said the goal, from his perspective, is to enhance the state’s education and healthcare, filling the voids wherever they exist. He said instead of having separate meetings, it should be a collaborative effort.
“From my perspective it’s not respectful if you will for the South Jersey delegation, who probably don’t know much either, to have a conversation that we read about in North Jersey, but yet we’re in session on a regular basis and I want to reach over and say, ‘How do you feel about this?’” Rice said.
He admitted that sometimes the Democrats are battling each other in addition to Republicans. “There’s a handful of Democrats that the governor can always depend on for different reasons,” he said. He included Senate President Stephen Sweeney in that handful.
Rice said he’s not afraid to fight for what he believes in. “My position’s very simple. Contrary to what the other 39 legislators want to say in the Senate, I’m not subordinate to any of them, won’t take a backseat. I represent real people with real problems — the taxpayers and the voters,” he said. “So at the end of the day, we may lose the war, but our delegation has no problem responding to the battlefield and that’s what we’re doing now.”