At Rider, State Senate President Backs Bill to Help Universities Build Academic and Research Facilities

As the year’s first featured speaker in the Rebovich Institute’s Governing New Jersey series, Stephen M. Sweeney talks about investing in higher education, unemployment.
Sean Ramsden and Bill Ahearn
Senate President Stephen Sweeney said the "Building Our Future" bond act is an "investment" in higher education.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney said the "Building Our Future" bond act is an "investment" in higher education.

The president of the New Jersey State Senate took the opportunity at a Rider event on September 24 to promote a bond act on the upcoming general election ballot that, if passed, would provide more than $750 million to the state’s colleges and universities – including Rider – to build or renovate academic facilities.

Speaking at the academic year’s first Governing New Jersey lecture – an ongoing series presented by Rider’s Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics – Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney said the bond initiative is “an investment” in higher education.

Though he never attended college, Sweeney has emerged as a champion of higher education in New Jersey, and is a driving force behind the “Building our Future” bond act, which is on the November ballot. 

“We haven’t made an investment in higher education since 1988,” Sweeney said to an audience of students, faculty, and guests, in reference to the state’s last bond referendum earmarked for college campuses. He noted that the bond issue would pay for capital improvement projects at both public and private institutions, including updated classrooms, libraries, laboratories, and computer facilities. Those improvements, Sweeney said, would help keep New Jersey students in New Jersey colleges and universities, and help build the state’s economy by making New Jersey more attractive to companies that might be considering relocating.

Sweeney said that if voters approve the Building Our Future referendum – the first initiative on the November 16 general election ballot – it would demonstrate a commitment to New Jersey students and the New Jersey economy.

“Our No. 1 export in New Jersey is young people, young minds,” Sweeney said. “We spend all this money educating you (in our public schools), and then you want to go to college, and there are no seats for you, no room.”

The Building Our Future Bond Act was approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee earlier this year. The legislation earmarks some $50 million for the state’s private colleges and universities, meaning Rider would stand to gain several million dollars if voters approve the ballot initiative.

Sweeney added that referendum proponents will be working with colleges to get students and alumni to vote for it. Rider President Mordechai Rozanski seconded Sweeney’s endorsement of the bill, and encouraged students, their parents, and all New Jersey voters to help pass the initiative on November 6.

“For the first time in a quarter of a century it will allow us to build up our academic enterprises,” Rozanski said. “I hope everybody will support the referendum.”

A Democrat and a former member of the Gloucester County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Sweeney has served in the New Jersey State Senate since 2002, representing the 3rd Legislative District. He is perhaps best known for proposing broad reforms to the state’s public employee pension and health-benefits systems in 2011, changes he estimated will save Garden State taxpayers more than $120 billion over the next 30 years.

Sweeney also said that resolving the state’s – and the nation’s – toughest issues, such as their rising deficit and unemployment figures, is going to require a firm bipartisan resolve to enact change. Politicizing issues for personal gain lends no solutions, however.

“I hate to see people make political hay out of unemployment numbers,” said Sweeney, who represents the state’s poorest legislative district, covering parts of Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem counties. “Those numbers are your neighbors, your friends and family.”

The Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University is dedicated to public service and scholarly analysis of government, public policy, campaigns and elections in New Jersey. Generous support for The Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Institute comes from the Hennessy Fund. The next speaker in the Governing New Jersey series will be former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman on Wednesday, October 3, at 6 p.m. in Rider’s Mercer Room. To RSVP, contact Susan Cuccia at 609-896-5350 or via e-mail at [email protected].