On November 6th, New Jersey voters should vote NO on Public Question #1, which seeks authorization for the state government to borrow $750 million “to build, equip and expand higher education facilities.” The New Jersey Constitution does not allow our state government to borrow money unless the voters approve. As a result, the state legislature was forced to put the $750 million borrowing plan on the November 6th ballot in the form of a public question.
The United States federal government is drowning in debt. Earlier this year, our national debt surpassed $16 trillion. According to the Congressional Budget Office, this debt problem will only grow worse in the future.
Like the federal government, New Jersey state government is also drowning in debt. According to its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, New Jersey state government has over $40.5 billion in outstanding debt. According to www.StateBudgetSolutions.org, when other obligations such as future pension and health benefit payments for public employees are included, New Jersey state government has a total debt of $258 billion. New Jersey’s total debt is now the fifth highest in the nation after California, New York, Texas and Illinois. That debt burden comes to about $30,000 per resident, or about $120,000 for a family of four. County and municipal debts add even more to the total government debt burden facing New Jersey residents.
Like state government, New Jersey’s colleges and universities have accrued excessive debt levels. According to a report issued earlier this year by Moody’s Investors Service, Rutgers University has outstanding debt of $1.2 billion, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) has outstanding debt of $668 million, and Rowan University has outstanding debt of $517 million. Other state colleges and universities in New Jersey have hundreds of millions of dollars in additional debt, much of it facilitated by the New Jersey Educational Facilities Authority.
We must make New Jersey more affordable for all of our residents. People and businesses are fleeing New Jersey because we have the highest overall tax burden, the highest property taxes, and among the highest energy costs in the nation. These factors make it extremely difficult for businesses to succeed in New Jersey, and for middle class families and seniors to pay their bills.
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Students are not leaving New Jersey because of the condition of the buildings at our colleges and universities. If we want more of our high school graduates to attend college in New Jersey, we should seek ways to make college more affordable and to hold the line on tuition increases. One policy change that could be implemented is to increase the number of seats that New Jersey colleges must reserve for New Jersey students, which is done in other states such as North Carolina.
Although the maintenance of a strong higher education system is critical to our future success, harsh economic times demand real answers to tough questions. If we do not build new higher education facilities will our economy come to a halt? Will our colleges close? Will our students be unable to learn? Are we doing them a favor if we make their education more expensive? Is it wise to add more debt during the worst economic downturn in decades? Will adding more debt enable the state to meet its financial obligations or lower local property taxes? The obvious answer to all of these questions is NO.
A defeat of Public Question #1 on November 6th will send a strong message to Trenton that our debt burden is already too high, that adding more debt will do nothing to lower property taxes or college tuition, and that it is immoral to spend money that we don’t have, which must be paid back by future generations. How you vote on Public Question #1 may be as important to your future as how you vote for president, U.S. Senate or U.S. Congress. Vote NO. Tell your friends and neighbors to vote NO, as well. The economic and financial viability of New Jersey depends upon it.
Senator Michael J. Doherty