TRENTON, N.J. – During Monday’s Assembly Budget hearing with the Department of Higher Education and representatives from the state’s public, private and community colleges, Assemblywoman Aura Dunn asked why Middlesex County College is getting special treatment. The college is getting a $20 million boost in the budget over last year, despite the Council of County Colleges requesting only $20 million more in state aid to pay for increasing costs at the state’s 18 community colleges.
“In simple terms, why so much for Middlesex?” questioned Dunn (R-Morris) during the hearing. “And I know we had that discussion about $20 million needed for community colleges. We may very well have found it.”
Secretary of Higher Education Brian Bridges said he didn’t know, because he wasn’t included in the negotiations.
“You know, New Jersey is a place where institutions lobby with the group that’s in front of us, with different legislators or the governor’s office, and are able to benefit in that way, shape or form, depending on a whole host of factors,” said Bridges.
Last year’s budget provided $10 million to Middlesex County College for capital improvements from the Property Tax Relief Fund, however, the college also received $20 million from the American Rescue Plan. New Jersey has been using its federal funds for mostly special interest spending instead of major needs like preventing payroll tax hikes and property tax hikes from health care insurance premium increases.
“For Middlesex to receive three times the level of funding from Bridges’ agency in this budget, I find it very unfortunate that the Secretary could not provide an answer. I was truly trying to understand the justification,” Dunn continued. “I was hoping we’d learn that the college is a leading place of innovation or serving a great need for the citizens. Nope. I got nothing.”
Bridges is responsible for overseeing and administering hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and grants to support the success of the nearly half million students from over 70 higher education institutions throughout the state.
“Budgets should reflect the state’s priorities, not your connections,” Dunn concluded.