Come election day, New Jersey voters will be asked to approve a $750 million bond issue for infrastructure projects to improve the state’s colleges and universities. Yesterday, 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.
Today, Ralph Izzo, Chairman & CEO of PSEG, and chair of the Rutgers Board of Governors, offered his perspective on the bond issue. He says that while he too objects to debt incurred to support the state’s operating budget, debts incurred for infrastructure purposes are legitimate.
“First of all, debt is at an all-time low in terms of interest rates right now. Secondly, we have labor available to do work right now, so you have some preferential rates that you can acquire in terms of putting people to work. So the combination of the two makes this an ideal time to incur debt.”
He says the competition for attracting world class talent to the state’s universities is fierce. “We’re competing for talent, we’re competing for federal resources, we’re competing for private sector resources,” said Izzo. “You can’t win that competition with facilities that are decades old.”
Currently, he says the state’s universities do not break the top ten in the country. “Rutgers is one of the 60 AAU institutions in the United States, which are large research institutions. But when we combine UMDNJ, we’ll be ranked number 20 or 21. We need to get into the top 10.” To do that, he says the state needs world class facilities to attract world class researchers.
Improvements to the state’s colleges and universities impact the community at-large, says Izzo. He cites as an example a recent trip to MIT where he gave a talk to about 200 people.
“Half were entrepreneurs who were part of the MIT community — people who had graduated and stayed in the area, started their own small businesses, enjoyed the relationship that they had with this world class faculty, with this vibrant community of intellectuals that they can go back and speak with to grow their businesses.” he said.
According to Izzo, a great university can serve as a catalyst for spurring economic growth in the area. “Small businesses really are the economic engine in our nation and they are the ones that create the greatest amount of jobs. We at PSEG want to see that economy grow because it’s better for our business.”
If voters reject the bond issue, Izzo says it’s the students that may ultimately foot the bill, saying “we could continue to try to use tuition dollars to support building construction and that’s a very, very problematic proposition for our students.