From NJSpotlight: $500M in new state debt on November ballot: Will voters be as giving as ever?

October 27th, 2018

By John Reitmeyer

General-obligation bonds would fund expansion of vo-techs and other upgrades to educational facilities

vo-tech

New Jersey voters have been more than willing to authorize several major state borrowing initiatives in recent years, and they will soon decide whether the state should take on another $500 million in new debt to fund a wide range of education-facility upgrades.

The only public question on the November ballot this year asks voters whether they want $500 million in general-obligation bonds to be issued that would be used to pay for the expansion of career-training facilities at both the high school and county college level, and to also fund improvements to K-12 school security and drinking-water systems across the state.

The proposed borrowing has widespread support in the Legislature, including from key leaders in both parties. It’s also been endorsed by a number of business-lobbying groups and the state’s leading advocates for vocational-technical high schools. But concerns have also been raised about how the bond issue could impact the state’s already significant debt burden, especially as more than $1 billion in new borrowing has been authorized in recent months without any voter approval.

The original proposal for the bond issue came out of a yearlong review of state policies related to the manufacturing industry, which lawmakers are trying to revive as a leading sector of New Jersey’s economy. During a series of hearings, industry leaders told legislators they have a number of job openings but not enough qualified applicants to fill them. Officials from the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools testified that more than 30,000 students filed applications last year to attend a vocational-technical high school, but only a little more than 12,000 students statewide were accepted, primarily due to space constraints.

$350 million of it would go to vo-techs

In response, the proposed bond issue would raise $350 million to fund facility upgrades at the vocational-technical schools, and to also pay for school-security upgrades in K-12 districts, something that lawmakers added to the borrowing measure in the wake of the deadly school shooting earlier this year in Parkland, Florida that left 17 dead. Another $50 million from the bond issue would be made available to county colleges to expand facilities used by their career-training students. The remaining $100 million would fund water-infrastructure improvements at K-12 schools throughout the state.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) said the bond issue “offers a real chance to advance things that I think are important for the future (and) things that are important for the economy.”

“I’m proud to say that I’m going to support that public question,” Coughlin said during a news conference in the State House yesterday. Joining him were Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and several other lawmakers from both parties who back the $500 million bond issue.

Read the whole story on the NJSpotlight web site.

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