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N.J. Governor-elect Renews Pledge for More Higher Education Funding

NEW BRUNSWICK N.J. – New Jersey Gov.-elect Chris Christie delivered mostly welcome news to the state’s college and university presidents on Monday, pledging to increase funding to higher education over the next four years while warning that aid cuts are possible in the dire budget year ahead.

 Christie said he intends to raise New Jersey’s investment in higher education during his first term and stop what he termed the over-reliance on tuition and fees to make up for the lack of state support. Christie referenced former Gov. Tom Kean, who viewed higher education as a dividend-returning investment for the state.

 Christie said New Jersey must increase the amount state government spends on higher education for the state college and university system to remain competitive with neighboring states. However, in the fiscal year that starts July 1, he faces a budget deficit his transition team now estimates at more than $9 billion, and said he can’t guarantee that higher education aid won’t take a hit. “I can’t give you a flat-out commitment it won’t be cut,” Christie said. “I hope not to have to do it.”

 Christie has already pledged not to raise taxes his first year in office. He gets sworn in on Jan. 19. The governor-elect renewed a campaign pledge to make higher education a priority as he puts together a budget.

 The state allocated nearly $2.2 billion to higher education in the current budget, a $43 million increase over the prior year. But, because revenues must match expenditures, Christie’s first budget will almost certainly be smaller than the current budget. Midyear cuts to the current budget are ongoing because tax collections continue to fall short of projections. New Jersey spends less on higher education than 47 states, Christie said. He called that level of funding “disgraceful.”

 Christie promised that Monday’s meeting, which he called, was the first of what will be regular sessions with the academics. He said he planned to name someone to his new administration who would be responsible for maintaining contract with the heads of the state’s colleges and universities.

 He also told the group that a regulatory review by Lieutenant Gov.-elect Kim Guadagno could rid them of some onerous and costly regulations.

 Afterward, Rutgers University President Dr. Richard McCormick, who hosted the meeting with the New Jersey Presidents Council, said he was encouraged by what he heard. “Just as he had consistently during the campaign, as a candidate, he made clear his strong support for higher education because of the educational opportunities we provide and our stimulus to the economy,” McCormick said. “He gets that.”

 McCormick refused to speculate on how the university would deal with any higher education cuts imposed in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

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