In an effort to produce a shift in state policy priorities as well as advance specific higher education proposals, the New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP) organization has called on state leaders to commit new investment to New Jersey higher education to boost the economic competitiveness of the Garden State.
With last week’s release of “Make Higher Education Affordable Again,” the first of an Invest in New Jersey series of policy briefs, the Trenton-based public policy group contends that state policymakers should turn their attention away from enacting new tax cuts to pouring funds into initiatives that will help drive economic growth.
“New Jersey for a variety of reasons has dropped the word ‘investment’ from its public discourse given the attention on tax cuts,” said Gordon MacInnes, the NJPP president and a co-author of the policy brief.
“We want to provide an alternative narrative to the idea that tax cuts are the most important thing you can do in a state that is struggling mightily to come out of the Great Recession,” he added.
MacInnes said that, with tax cut legislation backed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie unlikely to see enactment in the current state legislative session that ends this month, there’s an opportunity to get state leaders thinking about how increased college affordability and an improved science research infrastructure could help fuel the state’s slow climb out of the recent recession. Passage of the Christie-backed proposal would deplete state revenues by about $1.6 billion annually, according to the NJPP.
“We’re close to the bottom in how well we’re rebounding from that recession, whereas in past recessions we led the pack. And that’s a big problem,” he noted.
“If you want to create better jobs, what do you do? One, you return higher education to the radar screen. It’s really dropped off the screen, and as a consequence it has not received the kind of attention, operating support and capital support that public higher education needs to maintain what it’s doing now and to address issues down the road,” MacInnes said.
Recommendations in the “Make Higher Education Affordable Again” brief are:
1) Doubling New Jersey’s Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) program: Increase funding for TAG by $125 million—approximately 41 percent—in fiscal year 2015. Increase it by another $200 million over the following two years and allow for future increases tied to inflation. This would give working and middle-class families a stronger chance to see their children attend college. Cost: $325 million.
2) Stabilizing Operating Budgets: Invest $200 million in fiscal year 2015 to stabilize the operating budgets of research universities and state colleges. Increase this funding by another $100 million in both 2016 and 2017. Cost: $400 million.
3) Investing in Innovation: Use a modest $25 million to establish a blue-ribbon commission to re-ignite New Jersey’s exploration of promising fields for research and development. Allot at least $100 million in the second year to support the priorities identified by the new commission, to cover both building and operating costs. Expect this commitment to rise in future years to $150 million or so as new centers of public/private research and innovation are built and made operational. Cost: $180 million.
Last week, Bill Holland, executive director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, participated in the news media teleconference call that introduced the NJPP policy brief. He said the brief “lays out a strong case for the Governor and the legislature to recognize that we need to start re-investing in sectors like higher education rather than focusing” on tax cuts.
“We’re certainly in a tough fiscal picture, but the conversation of re-investing in higher education, schools and social services is missing in Trenton,” Holland said.