By Jarrett Renshaw/Statehouse Bureau
TRENTON — A group of Essex County lawmakers plans to present a laundry list of demands to Senate President Stephen Sweeney Thursday that must be satisfied before they support a controversial overhaul of the state’s higher education system, the Star Ledger has learned.
The long and potentially expensive list — which includes granting Rutgers-Newark unprecedented autonomy and pumping millions of state taxpayer dollars into Newark’s University Hospital and medical school — was laid out in a conference call headed by Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, according to sources familiar with the plan.
The sources requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for the delegation.
The last-minute demands add another layer of complexity to a political drama already beset with uncertainty and a deadline of July 1 imposed by Gov. Chris Christie, who is intent on rearranging the structure of several hospitals, universities and medical institutions in the state.
Oliver told the lawmakers she will insist that if the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark is going to lose revenue-generating assets, it must receive new financial support and not be left to wither and die.
Under the current proposal, Rutgers University would absorb UMDNJ’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, public health school and cancer institute in New Brunswick-Piscataway. Most of the remaining pieces of UMDNJ would be renamed New Jersey Health Sciences University, while University Hospital would remain tethered to UMDNJ but come under control of a public-private partnership.
Oliver told the group today that UMDNJ is saddled with debt that must be lightened if the institution is to remain financially viable, the sources said, adding that Rutgers must absorb some of the debt service along with taxpayers through annual appropriations.
Moreover, she said part of UMDNJ’s debt must be refinanced through the budget or as part of a capital plan for broader higher education that is under consideration, and that the state must increase its subsidies to University Hospital, the sources said.