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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is in talks with lawmakers on a plan to seek voter approval to sell as much as $3.5 billion of bonds for college improvements, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.
The referendum would be put on the ballot as soon as this November and would fund work on dormitories, research labs and classrooms, said the people, who declined to be identified because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly about the talks. Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, declined to comment on the bond proposal in an e-mail.
Christie, a first-term Republican, said in February he was working on plans for a “major” capital investment in the university system. He declined to elaborate at the time. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, New Jersey’s highest-ranking Democratic lawmaker, said today that he has held preliminary talks with Christie about the issue and is drafting a measure. The size of the proposal hasn’t been determined, Sweeney said.
“We really need to do something,” Sweeney, of West Deptford, said in a telephone interview. “We still have to figure out the size of the bond and whether we can create a revolving pool.”
New Jersey last sold general-obligation bonds to fund college capital projects in 1988. Talks about a November referendum were reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal.
A sale ranging from $1 billion to $3.5 billion is being discussed, according to the people familiar with the talks. The colleges’ list of projects totals as much as $5 billion, they said.
New Jersey has 31 public colleges, including three research institutions, Rutgers University (26542MF), the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey. It also has nine state universities and 19 community colleges. Combined, the schools serve almost 358,700 full- and part-time students, according to state figures.
In a 2010 report, a panel commissioned by Christie and headed by former Governor Thomas Kean to study the state’s higher-education system said facilities needs were as high as $5.8 billion in 2005 and had since grown.
Senator Paul Sarlo, a Democrat from Wood-Ridge and chairman of the budget committee, said he wants capital funding to be tackled at the same time as Christie’s plan to fold Rutgers’s Camden campus into Glassboro-based Rowan University, a four-year public school. That plan is designed to create a new research institution in southern New Jersey.
“It’s great to talk about all of the wonderful plans we have and our commitment to higher education, but let’s make these capital improvements,” Sarlo said in a telephone interview today. “As a part of any merger plans, we need to go to voters and ask them to make an investment.”
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