An illustration of AC Devco’s proposed new Stockton University building in Atlantic City.

Stockton University’s planned expansion in Atlantic City remains on hold as the state released additional funding held in reserve by the governor over the summer, but none for the state college.

On Thursday, the state Department of Treasury announced the release of $114 million of the $235 million it had placed in sequester at the direction of Gov. Phil Murphy in July until it was clear that revenues would meet expectations.

The funding released does not include the $4.6 million to Stockton for its expansion in Atlantic City and millions of dollars for other higher education institutions included in the final legislative budget approved in June and signed by the governor.

Stockton President Harvey Kesselman, who over the summer was cautiously optimistic the funding would be released, remained so Thursday.

“Although we are disappointed that Phase II of our Atlantic City expansion remains on hold, I am hopeful the revenue receipts will support releasing the remainder of the funds in the very near future,” Kesselman said.

Since the sequester, local legislators across parties have urged the state to release the funding so Stockton can move ahead with its plans for Phase II in Atlantic City, which would create a $64 million, 400-bed residential unit in the Chelsea neighborhood. The project, being developed by the Atlantic City Development Corp., received approval from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority in May. They had expected to break ground in September and finish by summer 2021.

Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, said he has been in contact with the legislators since November of last year to have the money added to the budget, and met with representatives from the Governor’s Office over the summer.

“No one ever said dealing with Trenton would be easy or make sense,” Brown said.

Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato, both D-Atlantic, have sent two letters to Murphy since July calling for the release of the money.

“If the funds are not unfrozen, the project risks being abandoned,” according to a joint statement from the assemblymen. “By the governor’s own rationale, one of the primary considerations to release the frozen funds is ‘the likely statewide or localized impact of the item.’ Nothing could be more critical for Atlantic County as the future of Stockton University is inextricably tied to the future of Atlantic County.”

Stockton is one of the lowest-funded state institutions at $1,995 in aid per student, just over Montclair State University at $1,912. The state average is $3,570 per student.

Murphy’s executive order claims the spending freeze was necessary to maintain a responsible surplus balance and protect the state’s Rainy Day Fund deposit, but was attributed by other elected officials to the Legislature’s axing of the governor’s proposed “millionaire’s tax.”

The order authorized the state Office of Management and Budget to release items of appropriation from reserve “upon notification from the Treasurer that amounts in excess of the targeted fund balance are anticipated to be available for expenditure.”

The state treasurer said Thursday the funding release was made possible because of an “improved year-end fund balance for FY 2019; and the expectation that approximately $50 million of the $235 million that the Legislature booked in the budget will be achieved through the Administration’s efforts, such as the recent announcement of $13 million in savings through the consolidation of Department of Correction youth facilities.”

The Treasury said the determination of what funds were released was based on the amount of the appropriation, the likely impact, the history of state support, the timing of payment and the ability to delay payment.

“I am pleased that we are able to release a significant portion of the funding that had been placed into reserve this summer,” state Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio said. “We will continue to closely monitor revenue collections and additional savings initiatives booked in the budget and hope to be able to release additional funds as expeditiously as possible. In the interim, we have asked all state departments to continue to keep us apprised of any potential financial hardships on the horizon in relation to spending items placed in reserve.”

Funds released include $53.7 million in transitional aid for localities, $20 million for the Essex County jail’s substance use disorder programs, $7 million for Cooper Medical School of Rowan University and an additional $5 million in operations support for the school, $7 million for Essex County SNAP administrations; and $6 million for the Essex County recidivism pilot program.

Contact: 609-272-7251

Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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