Candidates vie for state Legislature seats
As New Jersey residents hit the polls today, they will vote for the fate of all 120 state Legislature seats. In District 17, which New Brunswick falls under, three Republican candidates seek to replace incumbents.
Incumbent Democrats Sen. Bob Smith along with Assemblymen Upendra Chivukula and Joseph Egan will face challenges from Republican Senate candidate Jordan Rickards and Assemblymen candidates Carlo DiLalla and Robert Mettler.
One issue on the top of the candidates’ lists is the price of higher education.
“New Jersey, like the rest of the country, is suffering from an economic malaise,” Smith said. “All the students at Rutgers know what is happening to their tuition because the state is not properly supporting higher education.”
He said one of the goals for state Democrats should be that everyone helps make higher education more affordable. He supports more taxes going toward different levels of education.
“The key of getting out of this big recession is to train and retrain employees for jobs in the state,” he said.
Smith’s opponent, Rickards, said state universities used increasing financial aid to proportionately increase tuitions and fees.
“When universities recognized that students had more money, they jacked the prices up,” Rickards said. “Take medical students for example. For every dollar in loans we give out, tuition goes up 99 cents.”
Rickards said if students receive higher financial aid every year, universities should accept tuition freezes to better fund higher education.
“I think for state schools, there is no reason tuition has gone up this much,” he said.
Rickards said one way to combat the trend of tuition increases would be to institute a tuition freeze and begin to roll back rates to levels comparable to those 10 years ago, with inflation taken into account.
Smith said a more effective way would be more education aid. Tuition increase would not be a realistic option, since cost of living also rises, driving up expenses for universities.
“Everybody would like to do a tuition freeze, including some students. But as other costs keep going up, you need to pay the bills,” he said. “The better way to do it is to provide bigger funding for higher education.”
Smith, who is also the chair for the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, said he would like to go back to the Senate and make the state greener.
He supported the Reduce Plastic and Paper Bag Usage Act in 2010 and a bill that would provide matching grants for local governments to facilitate energy efficiency and conservation of resources in public buildings.
In the race for Assembly in District 17, DiLalla and Mettler are challenging Chivukula and Egan for their seats.
Chivukula said job creation and economic development are at the forefront of his campaign.
His stance on property taxes has so far been to limit fully funding public schools.
“N.J. taxpayers have reached a tipping point on taxes,” Chivukula said in a 2010 press release. “They can no longer afford to pay six-figure salaries for hundreds of superintendents and assistant superintendents along with the costs of other administrators.”
DiLalla said in a survey by thevoterguide.org that he would make sure the state does not misallocate funds. He believes money should be given back to homeowners to help alleviate high property taxes.
He compared running the state to running a business, saying the state should create more revenue or trim the budget, according to mycentraljersey.com.
“By making a push to bring businesses back to New Jersey, it will increase the workforce and bring more revenue into the state,” DiLalla told mycentraljersey.com.
His running mate, Mettler, a lifelong resident of Franklin and former mayor, said New Jersey must deal with its fiscal crisis.
“While green is good, the middle of an economic crisis is not the time to add new burdens on business or citizens,” he told mycentraljersey.com. “The high cost of heating a home will, as it is, lead those who can afford it to seek any sustainable method they can afford.”
Egan, the incumbent democrat alongside Chivukula, supported legislation that would expand the tuition aid grant program to part-time undergraduate students.
He is also the chair of the Assembly Labor Committee and is part of the Telecommunications and Utilities Committee, which Chivukula chairs.