On Thursday, the state Senate Economic Growth Committee - chaired by Ray Lesniak - voted out of committee his bill (S2880) that would provide "up to $25 million in tax credits under Economic Redevelopment and Growth Grant Program for certain infrastructure at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey." And that's good. The bill now also is only dealing with Rutgers; NJIT and Rowan have been pulled out of the current bill.
The Committee of three Democrats and two Republicans voted 5-0 to move the bill on to the full Senate. It is a positive step in the process, and it is a process. The committee has members from Union, Camden, Atlantic, Monmouth, and Sussex counties, so it represents virtually every part of the state. And it received unanimous support, including ranking Republican Joe Kyrillos. But it needs to pass the Senate, then move to the Assembly. Democrats - Lesniak's party - control that house so it may be looked on with favor. Then, assuming passage in both houses, it needs the governor's signature. And since these are tax credits, and not direct payments of cash to Rutgers, Chris Christie may be more willing to sign off.
But the full Senate may not act on the bill until later in June. And that's possibly after University President Robert Barchi reveals his master plan for athletics at the June 18 Board of Governors meeting. Yes, a process.
And as for that process, it again seems to me there is some sort of disconnect between the president and the folks in athletics. Kyle Flood:
"If the president has a date that he wants to talk about it publicly,'' Flood said, "I think that will be his forum.''
I realize that he may be being politically astute in not saying anything and deferring to Barchi, but there's more. From Julie Hermann:
"I think everybody is excited about what's the plan, what's the vision — and even more important than that is how are you going to accomplish that,'' Hermann said. "I think exactly how we are going to accomplish that is something that is still going to take quite a bit more time. I know everybody is waiting for some big statements come June but I can tell you most of the work is going to happen after that still, in terms of how are we going to get this done. [emphasis added]
There is a lot of work to do, and it won't end with the passage of S2880 or Barchi's reveal in June.
There is action on refurbishing, if not fully renovating, the Hale Center. The work revolves around what might be termed "back office" areas, but areas that are important to efficient and effective operations. From the nj.com story:
"Our equipment room is probably 50 percent done, and it's a complete upgrade,'' said Will Gilkison, the football program's director of football operations. "The biggest thing for us is being functional. So we're moving to more of a storage-unit setup. It was really out-dated. We're making it recruiting friendly. So the first goal is to make it functional and the second is updating it to be competitive if not better than what everybody else has.''
Gilkison said there are other projects in the works inside the team's training, administrative and academic resource facility, including the refurbishing of the first-floor hallway outside the Scarlet Knights' football locker room.
The big story here, though, is that all the work is being paid for through private funding. That is the way of the future, since we know that state and University funds won't be there.
The State of the State['s Attitude About Rutgers]
There have been a slew of comments from non-Rutgers people here about the role of a flagship state university and the pride that people in the Big Ten states have about theirs. Oh, if only that extended to the Garden State.
Despite having almost a half million living graduates - and adding another 14,000 or so today - and with most living in New Jersey, the connection to Rutgers by the people of this state is tepid at best. Even the legislature, as has been pointed out, has more non-Rutgers grads than members with degrees from the State University. Of the five members of the Senate committee chaired by Lesniak, he is the only Rutgers grad. The vice-chair attended Maryland and another member went to Temple.
Maybe the best example is from a random Twitter conversation I had - and did I ever think I'd write that - with someone about the Lesniak bill. From that back-and-forth, a comment about Lesniak's bill:
@scarknight Given that RU is reaping a big windfall from the Big Ten, apply some of that money towards these upgrades, not state funds— pickledpigskin (@pickledpigskin1) May 15, 2015
Clearly, he doesn't understand the six-year Big Ten integration. And Senator Lesniak was involved with this person, too, on Twitter. But the tweet that sent me over the edge, and that typifies what I feel is the overall attitude about Rutgers from too many New Jerseyans is this:
"doesn't do much for the rest if [sic] the state". Well, as the Senator implied, the person hadn't read his report about economic impact of investments. And as a reminder of that, here's Julie again talking about Lesniak's report:
I think helping our community at large understand that there is significant economic impact for the community — I know having been through my third transition into a conference the biggest winner by far is always your university and your community. Even more than the athletic department. I think that report gives us a chance to share the good news about the economic impact. Those numbers actually look pretty conservative to me compared to some other economic impact reports I've seen but at least it's a beginning of a communicating the impact our athletic department is going to have on our community around us.''
Rutgers is the state. Rutgers is successful as a university, and when the Big Ten money is fully felt - along with funding and grants from the CIC - Rutgers will be a very different, and even more successful, university. But we are on a long journey. And part of that is changing the attitudes of folks like pickledpigskin.