By Jarrett Renshaw/The Star-Ledger
TRENTON —Gov. Chris Christie says Assembly Speaker’s Sheila Oliver’s concerns about an influential yeshiva and a Princeton seminary getting a share of $1.3 billion in taxpayer funds is more about politics than policy.
Christie and Oliver (D-Essex) have engaged in a war of words over the governor’s decision to award Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood and the Princeton Theological Seminary more than $11 million in construction grants associated with a bond referendum approved by voters in November.
Oliver — joined by the state’s American Civil Liberties Union — says she is concerned about the constitutionality of public funds going to schools with such narrow admission standards that train rabbis and ministers . But Christie said Oliver has not expressed similar concern for a popular Tuition Aid Grant, or TAG, program that has awarded millions to the yeshiva students since 2000.
“The speaker is one of the biggest proponents of the TAG program in the state, and I approved the TAG grant program as well,” Christie said yesterday. “From 2000-2012, the Beth Medrash Govoha has gotten $46 million in TAG grants. That’s state money. And the speaker has never raised an objection to that. But now all of a sudden, she objects to her own bill.”
But Oliver said she was not aware that yeshiva students were getting TAG money and said now she questions whether that’s appropriate.
“Had I been policing the day-to-day actions of higher education administrators, I certainly would have questioned those expenditures as well,” Oliver said.
Oliver provided TAG eligibility requirements that state students must “not be enrolled in a program leading to a degree in theology or divinity.”
When Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, was provided with the eligibility requirements and asked how yeshiva students qualified for the TAG program , he said simply that the practice dates back years.
“TAG awards have been going to rabbinical college students and students of all other eligible institutions for at least 30 years ,” Drewniak said. “They spanned Governor Kean’s administration and continued through the administrations of Governors Florio, Whitman, Codey, McGreevey and Corzine. BMG only began receiving TAG awards for its students beginning in FY 2000.”