EDUCATION

Political Heavyweights Show Up at Higher Ed Referendum Rally

New Jersey politicos turned out in full force at Rutgers this morning to support the higher education bond issue.

“It’s a remarkable coalition, from Republicans to Democrats to civic allies like Citizen Action, to business allies like NJBIA,” said Maggie Moran, campaign manager for Building our Future Bond Act.

It’s been 24 years since the last higher education bond was approved. That was for $350 million. The one on this year’s ballot is for $750 million.

“I’ve been very critical in the past. For 15 years or so we’ve defunded higher education and that’s hurting our future and has hurt our future,” said former Gov. Tom Kean. “But we’re not here this morning to fix the blame for the past we’re here to fix the future.”

Rutgers Professor Kathryn Uhrick said “In 1988, the last bond act, the worldwide web did not exist for many of us. In 1988, this iPhone was not even a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye.”

WATCH VIDEO:

The money would go toward new classrooms and laboratories at all 57 colleges and universities in the state.

Said the new president of Rutgers University, Robert Barchi: “Investing in new classrooms and new state of the art laboratories is about New Jersey meeting the global competition head-on.”

“This is an investment in our economic future and our very way of life,” said Ralph Izzo, Chairman of the Rutgers Board of Governors. “And in the short term, the timing couldn’t be better. Interest rates are low and, sadly to a certain extent labor is available.”

“I see the building trades guys out there,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney said to the crowd, asking “you ready to go back to work?”

More than 100 organizations have formed the coalition called Building Our Future New Jersey to support ballot question one. They say other states are ahead of us.

“New Jersey will elevate itself as one of the top competitors in this nation if we make this investment,” urged Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver.

Sweeney acknowledged the tough economic times, but said educational investment was key to job creation. “You wanna get this state’s economy back up and running?,” he asked. “What you’re gonna wanna do is invest cause this is the one investment that — yes, it’s education — but it’s more jobs than education.”

So far there is no organized opposition to the bond issue, although proponents expect conservative Steve Lonegan to speak out against it. Arrayed against him will be practically the entire establishment of the New Jersey political world that wants this bond issue passed. Reporting from New Brunswick, Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron files this report.