Candidates address higher education, state budget issues at tailgate parties
No more than 25 feet away from one another, two gubernatorial rivals traveled between tailgate tents and parked cars to listen to the concerns and compliments of both students and fans of the Rutgers football team outside of Rutgers Stadium.
As students and alumni celebrated Homecoming outside the West Gate of the stadium, Gov. Jon S. Corzine and Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie were meeting members of the community, addressing University tuition concerns and plans, and supporting the Scarlet Knights.
"We've got a lot of work to do to make sure that we can provide the opportunities, all of the opportunities, that [the University] has, it's difficult in a time when there are scarce resources," said Corzine, Democratic gubernatorial candidate. "We had a recession since 2007 and it has put enormous pressure on not just the state of New Jersey but every state system across the country."
Most universities around the country have seen serious budget cuts, he said. Almost all state schools are in double-digit increases in tuition.
According to research by USA Today, most universities maintain only single-digit tuition rate increases while a significant number are in the double-digits.
"That's why we put the cap on tuition and expanded the number of dollars we put on tuition aid, because it's important to ease the financial burden on families that are struggling," Corzine said.
He cut the overall state budget 13 percent last year and the state aid to the University by 5 percent.
It was relatively small compared to cuts in other areas, Corzine said.
"We had to strike our state budget from 34 billion to 29 billion [for the] first time in 60 years, we had to cut spending because we're in the deepest recession since the Great Depression," Corzine said.
The tuition rate is always getting higher, and they can't keep burdening students and their families, Christie said. Raising state aid to higher education would also help the economy.
"We have to spend more money on higher education," Christie said. "It's the one area where I said we have to spend more money because we don't have enough seats at [the University] for all the kids that want to come here."
Christie's plan includes reinstituting the Higher Education Incentive Endowment Program, where the state matches funds for endowment contributions of at least $1 million at a rate of 10 percent per year, according to his Web site.
Despite Corzine and Christie's differences, they both showed support for the Scarlet Knights.
"[The best football team in New Jersey] has got to be Rutgers, its not even close," Christie said.
Although Christie couldn't stay for the game because of the tight schedule, Corzine sat surrounded by security toward the front of the stands around the 50-yard line, in Section 105.
"I've been coming pretty regularly for a long time actually, even before I was governor, and I have season tickets," Corzine said. "I've seen at least half of the home games, maybe a little more. But this year, I've been a little busy."
Both Corzine and Christie met their on-campus campaign workers in the parking lot.
"The students are here working to register voters and help them apply to vote by mail," said Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy graduate student Erin Caragher, who is the youth coordinator for the Corzine campaign. "Everyone is excited to meet Corzine and help support the campaign."