Corzine allots $1.6M more to College

The College will receive a $1.6 million increase in its base appropriation for fiscal year 2008, according to the state budget plan proposed by Gov. Jon S. Corzine on Thursday.

Corzine’s $33.3 billion proposal calls for a $49.3 million increase in total higher education funding from this fiscal year, partially restoring money to a fund that was cut by more than $169 million last year.

According to the Web site of the state Department of the Treasury, the College’s base appropriation will go up to $36.6 million, a 4.6 percent increase and a welcome change from the $3 million cut last year.

Other state colleges received a comparable increase to their respective budgets.

College President R. Barbara Gitenstein said that while certain components of the school’s subsidy are not yet clear, she likes what she sees so far.

“Right now, we do believe that (Corzine) is proposing additional resources for our base appropriation and for our obligations for mandated salary increases for the coming year,” she wrote in an e-mail to The Signal. “That is good news indeed.”

However, some casualties of last year’s cuts have not been recovered. The proposed budget continues the phasing out of the Outstanding Scholar Recruitment Program (OSRP).

“There will be no OSRP program for students entering (the College) in the fall,” Gitenstein said, though she noted that school-funded merit scholarships will continue.

Last year, the cut in OSRP forced the College to spend $1.5 million of its own money to fund incoming freshman scholarships that were promised before the budget announcement. The College revamped its merit scholarship program for next year’s freshman class, with the top award consisting of $8,000 renewed annually. When the College received OSRP funding, it was able to offer awards as high as full tuition, room and board.

The base budget increase does not mean the College is out of its financial crunch, as there are still notable omissions as well as many unknowns that will determine the school’s financial situation next year.

“It should be understood that the proposed increase will not cover anticipated new obligations from state-negotiated labor contracts or other mandatory cost increases,” Gitenstein wrote in a statement on the College’s Web site.

According to Gitenstein, the exact amount of the College’s obligation for salaries, its biggest expenditure, is in flux because of ongoing labor negotiations between the state and unions that represent faculty and staff.

The union with the biggest representation at the College, the Communications Workers of America (CWA), has come to a tentative agreement that still requires ratification by union members. According to Matt Golden, director of Communications and Media Relations, the contracts of other unions usually reflect that of CWA, but there are some vocal opponents to the proposed agreement because of an increased burden on employees to contribute money toward their health benefits.

An Associated Press (AP) report stated that Corzine’s budget plan relies on $40 million in savings from the tentative labor contract.

While it is too early to know the changes in tuition for next year, Golden said a determination should be made a lot earlier than last year, when the decision to raise in-state tuition by 8 percent and out-of-state by 15 percent was made in mid-July.

“Traditionally the tuition hearing is held in April,” he said. “We would like to do it at that time (this year) as well.”

Like last year, the College set up a page on its Web site dedicated to the state budget. Golden said that updates should be coming in as early as later this week, and notable information will be forwarded to the campus community.

Corzine’s proposal is not the final budget that the state will adopt. The State Legislature has until July 1 to reform the budget. Last year’s controversial budget was not approved by the deadline, causing a partial government shutdown.

Outside of the higher education category, the highlights of Corzine’s budget included property tax relief and sizable increases to school and municipal aid. The proposal was also notable for what it didn’t have: tax increases. According to the AP, it was the first budget since 2001 that did not propose any tax hikes.

In addition to outlining his budget proposal, Corzine spent a considerable amount of time on the dire financial situation New Jersey still faces. He highlighted the state’s $33 billion debt as well as the essential services the state currently cannot afford to provide.

“It’s frustrating to have so few financial resources to invest in our future,” he said.

According to Corzine, desperate measures to create revenue could include leasing the New Jersey Turnpike and the lottery to private companies.

Gitenstein said she was happy that Corzine was able to increase funding to higher education amid the state’s financial shortfalls.

“Corzine has struggled mightily to respond to a very difficult financial situation,” she said, “and I admire his clarity of purpose and thoughtfulness in making hard decisions.”