‘Student awareness’ needed to combat education funding loss

Recently, Gov. Jon S. Corzine unveiled his budget proposal for fiscal year 2009. As expected, this budget included cuts not only to higher education, but across the board. Proposed cuts to the College amount to $3.7 million, and as we have all seen before, these cuts will have serious effects on our students.

The question we must ask ourselves now is what do we do from here? Some students on our campus falsely assume that our time is best spent condemning Corzine, requesting that his honorary degree be taken away or lobbying state legislators.

In reality, these efforts will accomplish very little, as we have seen with previous budget cuts. The true problem lies not in what some perceive as the state’s lack of desire to supplement higher education, but rather in fiscal reality. There is simply no money.

Corzine is not to blame for the actions of past governors and legislators that have put our state on the road of seemingly perpetual fiscal deterioration.

So what should we do? First, every student should make sure they are fully aware of the implications of budget cuts to the College, and the realities of New Jersey’s budget problems.

New Jersey’s state debt is about $32 billion, which resulted in a debt service of $2.6 billion for fiscal year 2008. The proposed fiscal year 2009 budget includes cuts of $75.6 million to higher education, $189.6 million in aid to municipalities and $336 million in direct property tax relief among others.

All of these cuts have serious consequences for the lives of all New Jersey citizens yet they are necessary just to close the budget gap.

Restoring funding for higher education would require doing one of two things – increasing revenues or making additional cuts to other areas of the budget, which would do more harm to those parties involved. This may sound good in terms of keeping tuitions down, but higher property taxes are not the direction New Jersey should be heading.

The other option the state has to close the budget gap is to raise revenues by either borrowing the money and going further into debt, or increasing taxes. Not many New Jersey citizens would be in favor of raising the income tax given how high it is already, or the gas tax, even though it is one of the lowest in the nation. As for the sales tax, we all remember the shutdown of state government that resulted from the last sales tax increase. We have had the misfortune of seeing the effects of both tax increases and budget cuts.

Now honestly ask yourself, which was worse: a higher sales tax or cuts to higher education that resulted in tuition increases? The answer is clear.

Recently, Corzine presented a controversial plan to raise tolls in the future to pay down state debt as well as improve infrastructure. Many New Jersey citizens are opposed to this plan, citing that the problem is the spending. Perhaps the spending is the problem, but as we very well know, cutting the budget is not the solution that will work to solve our fiscal problems.

I am not saying that the toll plan is the best plan to deal with our state’s fiscal problem, but something must be done to deal with these problems. An alternative is needed.

There is no money that can simply be redirected toward higher education that won’t mean further budget strains and tax increases for other New Jersey municipalities and citizens. There have been countless numbers of lawmakers and citizens who complained about his proposal, yet no serious alternate proposals have been produced.

So I offer this challenge to our elected student representatives of the Student Government Association (SGA): Come up with an alternative. And not arrogantly ignorant proposals such as when a peer suggested that funding for all social programs should be cut in order to further supplement higher education, but rather proposals that are viable solutions to New Jersey’s fiscal problems.

Instead of lobbying state legislators to restore higher education funding with the money we don’t have, lobby an alternative plan that makes sense. I also call upon SGA to advocate for student awareness of the harsh realities of our state’s fiscal crisis.

It is not enough to be angry about cuts while crying about tax increases. So let’s get real about the budget crisis in our state and either come up with an alternative or accept the realities of budget cuts.

We need action. Not redundant rhetoric on the effects of budget cuts or calls for restoration to funding. We, and only we, are responsible for the future of our state. We must not allow our state legislators to continue acting fiscally irresponsibly at the expense of our state’s long-term sustainability.