New Jersey voters approved ballot questions that will provide $750 million in construction funds for the state’s colleges and require state Supreme Court justices to pay more for their retirement and health benefits.
Neither question had major public opposition, though some residents opposed the college bond because it required the state to take on more debt.
Total statewide results were not available at press time.
In southern New Jersey, the college bond question was supported by 57 percent of voters in Atlantic County, 56 percent in Cape May County, 54 percent in Ocean County and 58 percent in Cumberland County.
The ballot question on judges’ benefits had greater support with 80 percent of voters in Atlantic and Cape May counties, 84 percent in Cumberland County and 85 percent in Ocean County supporting the measure. There was no campaign against the question, in part because judges and justices are barred from politicking.
"It was the most common-sense vote anyone could cast," said Senate President Steve Sweeney,cq a South Jersey Democrat who sponsored the legislation changing public workers' benefits contributions.
Richard Stockton College provost Harvey Kesselman cq applauded the higher education bond passage and said he appreciated the voters’ support of higher education.
Stockton will receive a share of $247.5 million allocated to the smaller public colleges. The state research universities will share $300 million, the two-year community colleges will share $150 million and eligible private colleges will share $50 million.
“This is terrific news,” Kesselman said. “ We look forward to beginning to plan how we will use the funds. This will also create jobs in the region.”
Paul Shelly, cq spokesman for the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities said he believes requiring the colleges to match 25 percent of the amount they receive made it more attractive to voters. He said the funds will allow colleges to address priority needs.
“It may be a challenge for some colleges to raise the matching funds, but now there is an incentive,” Shelly said.
The governor and lawmakers said higher benefits contributions were needed from workers to help keep the retirement and health care systems for teachers, police and firefighters, judges and other public workers from going bankrupt. The systems continue to be underfunded by tens of billions of dollars, though Christie said recently the changes had saved local governments $116 million.
The law increased judges' pension payments the most of any group, from 3 percent of their salary to 12 percent by 2017. That's nearly $15,000 more for most judges, who earn $165,000. The most recent figures available from the treasury show their pension fund has only 52 percent of the amount needed to meet its future obligations, the worst of any of the funds.
Some of the state's 462 judges are already paying the higher contribution, either because they were hired after the law took effect or they were not covered under the constitutional provision.
Staff Writer Diane D’Amico and the Associated Press contributed to this report.