Too soon to assess state budget’s impact on Rider

By Katie Zeck

Gov. Chris Christie proposed his multi-billion dollar budget plan for the 2011 fiscal year to New Jersey state legislators on Tuesday, though how it will affect Rider is unclear.

“The actual implications for each item of the budget are still being understood,” said Ben Dworkin, Director of Rider University’s Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics. “This is the beginning of a long process, and they have until June 30 to get it done.”

The revealed financial strategy will follow through on Christie’s plans to increase school aid, cut business taxes, modify pensions for public workers and give property tax relief to New Jersey residents.

The governor has proposed a budget of $29.4 billion. Of that number, millions will be designated to optional services such as prescription medicine and dental care, services that Christie could easily remove from the budget. Additionally, the state will not be expecting any federal stimulus money this year.

“We cannot afford the system we have and the promises we’ve made,” said Christie in the 2011 budget address.

Despite such difficulties, aid given to schools, specifically higher education institutions, will not be compromised.

Dworkin commented on the budget in regards to its impact on Rider and other colleges and universities.

“Tuition aid grants will be increased, and aid for higher education will remain flat,” he said. “This is better than none, though it clearly does not make up for all of the significant cuts higher education has had.”

The governor does intend to increase aid to schools by $250 million. However, this is just a small improvement from the $820 million that was cut from schools this past year. He is proposing various reforms that will lower tuition rates and enrich New Jersey’s higher education community. Christie has also recommended that state schools be able to conduct collective bargaining, direct their own workers’ compensation programs and opt out of Civil Service.

The budget provides financial assistance to the state’s education system because debt payments are being cut by $149 million as a result of the refinancing of the school construction bonds.

Though the budget has been released, nothing can be put into action until the governor and lawmakers are able to agree on the plan’s details and the legislature gives its full approval. According to Dworkin, the budget depends on the full cooperation of the current Democratic-controlled legislature.

Dworkin added that although Christie will receive most of what he requests in his projected budget, there are still many factors that must come into play before the budget can be passed by the June 30 deadline.

“The Democrats control the legislature and this is an election year for the entire legislature,” he said. “Everyone’s in a fighting mood; the rhetoric is hot.”

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