Lawmakers call on Murphy to release Stockton Phase II funds

South Jersey lawmakers are calling on the governor to release funding for Stockton University, which officials say is critical for the college’s expansion in Atlantic City.

Assemblymen John Armato and Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, sent a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday demanding he unfreeze $4.6 million reserved for Stockton in the 2020 state budget, signed by the governor in June. State Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, also sent a request to the governor and has had conversations with members of his administration on the topic.

“I thank our senator and assemblymen for their support of Stockton and their recognition of our role in helping to diversify and expand the economy of Atlantic City. Unfortunately, Stockton cannot continue to grow without the additional state support. I know the governor appreciates the impact of the additional funds and hope the funds are released in time for us to move forward with Phase II,” Stockton President Harvey Kesselman said.

The Governor’s Office referred to prior statements on the issue.

The funding freeze was announced in response to state lawmakers approving a budget that omitted key items Murphy believed would bring additional revenue into state coffers, including his so-called “millionaire’s tax.”

“The promised revenue is not a luxury for Stockton; it is essential for their planned Phase Two expansion in Atlantic City,” Armato and Mazzeo wrote. “According to Stockton officials, if the funds are not unfrozen in the next two weeks, this massive project will have to be abandoned.”

Stockton’s Atlantic City campus opened in September. The planned residential expansion that would accommodate about 400 more students was unveiled in the spring, but it was contingent on an influx of money to the college from the state, Kesselman said at the time.

Stockton receives the second-lowest funding per pupil in aid among the state’s four-year colleges.

Earlier this month, the state Department of the Treasury released a list of $235 million in spending items, including aid for Stockton and millions of dollars for other higher education institutions, to be held in reserve, and funded only if revenues and savings in the state budget outperform Murphy’s expectations.

In an email to Murphy’s Chief Counsel Matt Platkin this week, Brown said Stockton would have to abandon the expansion project if the funding is not restored in the next few weeks.

“This project is critical since Stockton is already over 100% housing capacity, is experiencing strong enrollment growth (essential for revenue to keep pace with growing operating/capital needs), and this project will support the state’s ‘Eds & Meds’ initiative that will continue transforming Atlantic City,” Brown wrote.

Armato and Mazzeo wrote that Atlantic City’s success is tied to the college’s expansion.

“Atlantic County has come too far in the last few years to go backwards because of frozen funding that has already been approved, in a budget with a surplus in excess of $1 billion,” the assemblymen wrote. “If the $4.6 million in funding was good enough to sign into the budget without a line-item veto, it should be good enough to release to save this monumental project.”

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