Whelan Supports Higher Education Provisions In Economic Stimulus Act

Senator Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic

TRENTON – Senator Jim Whelan said today that provisions contained within the “New Jersey Economic Stimulus Act of 2009” that pertain to higher education in New Jersey would help boost the national reputation of the State’s public colleges and universities while creating new research and job opportunities for students. The “Economic Stimulus Act,” which was sponsored by Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, D-Union, received final legislative approval from the Senate today by a vote of 23-14.

“Our State colleges and public universities are at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to the financing of on-campus projects and the opportunities created for students through strong public-private partnerships,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic, and a member of the Senate Education Committee who advocated for these policy changes while working on the higher education restructuring legislation which was approved earlier today in the Senate. “Because of the regulatory and legal blockades which prevent institutions of higher education from contracting with private entities to finance construction projects in New Jersey, colleges have to rely on inadequate State financial support or tuition revenues to build on campus. Other states have given colleges the authority to take advantage of private financing, and the results are phenomenal.

“Whether it’s the new technology park at Notre Dame, the recently completed Sun Devil Stadium at Arizona State University, or the Research Triangle at Raleigh-Durham, private financing arrangements have become an important tool for schools to maintain state-of-the-art campuses,” added Senator Whelan. “It’s time New Jersey join the rest of the nation and give our public colleges the ability to engage in public-private financing for on-campus capital projects.”

S-2299, known as the “New Jersey Economic Stimulus Act of 2009,” would make various changes to New Jersey’s business growth and job retention policies in order to stimulate the economy. In addition to providing development and redevelopment incentives for businesses to invest in New Jersey, the bill would also create a framework for New Jersey’s public colleges and universities to engage in public-private partnerships, as well as partnerships with local communities and county governments, in order to finance capital projects on-campus without tapping State funding or increasing tuition rates on students.

Through the legislation, schools would be required to submit long-term facilities plans with the State Commission on Higher Education for review, and would be authorized to contract with private entities to assume full financial and administrative responsibility for an on-campus construction project, provided that the project is financed entirely by the private entity. The bill would also permit institutions of higher education to partner with local and county governments in order to tap government bonding capacity to fund long-term capital investments.

“In addition to finding less costly ways to build on campus, this bill would strengthen the bonds between potential employers and public colleges,” said Senator Whelan. “Students will be able to tap into those bonds at graduation, and leverage internships or research fellowships into full-time employment. Strong bonds between public higher education and private industry will help colleges compete with the ‘brain drain’ that draws our best and brightest away from New Jersey, and will ensure that private employers have access to a highly-trained, well-educated workforce.”

The bill was approved earlier in the day in the Assembly by a vote of 49-27, with two abstentions. It now heads to the Governor to be signed into law.

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