Declan O'Scanlon

New Jersey State Sen. Declan O'Scanlon, R-Monmouth.

(The Center Square) – A leading New Jersey Republican is blasting Gov. Phil Murphy for borrowing money to fund $400 million in grants to higher education institutions in the state.

Last week, Murphy, a Democrat, announced a plan to dole out the money. Schools can use the funds for infrastructure, equipment and capital investments.

“State support for our institutions of higher education has long been lacking, but that doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye to cost when we decide to make an important investment,” state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, said in a statement.

“I don’t think it makes sense for Governor Murphy to propose increasing State debt when his administration is sitting on a windfall of billions upon billions in cash that remains untapped,” O’Scanlon added. “His plan will stick taxpayers with unnecessary debt and interest payments for decades when he should be working to increase affordability.”

Under the plan, the state intends to release the funds as part of “a joint solicitation of four revolving bond programs.” The funds are part of the Capital Facilities Bond Program, which lawmakers established to address funding for the preservation, renewal, and construction of facilities and equipment at New Jersey’s higher education institutions and create a regular financing mechanism.

O’Scanlon suggested the state could use $1.2 billion in the current state budget allocated for “pay-as-you-go capital improvements” or remaining American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds. The feds sent the state more than $6 million in ARP dollars.

“We have billions in the bank that can easily fund a capital program for our colleges and we’re likely to have billions more in surplus than we were expecting due to the Murphy administration’s inaccurate fiscal projections,” O’Scanlon said.

“There is absolutely no doubt that we can afford to fund these important projects with the boatloads of unutilized cash collecting dust in the State bank account,” O’Scanlon added. “Governor Murphy shouldn’t borrow a single penny.”

Last week, when asked for more information about how the state planned to fund the programs, Christine Lee, a Murphy spokesperson, only said it included $400 million “in new infrastructure grant funding of four bond programs.” Lee declined to say how the state would be “topping up” the funds, as Murphy called it during a press conference.

Another Murphy spokesperson, Michael Zhadanovsky, did not immediately respond to a Tuesday request for comment and additional information.