State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20) would appoint a Rutgers student to the University’s Board of Governors if he is elected to New Jersey’s highest office this November.
The state’s longest-serving active legislator attended a town hall hosted by the Rutgers University Democrats on Wednesday night in Van Dyck Hall on the College Avenue campus, where he spoke about his experience and why he believes he should be elected as the Garden State’s 80th governor.
During the question-and-answer session that followed his pitch, he voiced support for putting a student on the Rutgers Board of Governors and said he is a cosponsor on a bill which would amend the Rutgers Act of 1956 to put a current student with full voting powers onto the body.
“It fits in with my concept of giving the public a voice and a vote in the government, by putting real commuters on the Port Authority board, and bus and train riders on the New Jersey Transit board, and real environmentalists on the (environmental commissions), not just someone who’s my political friend but recommended from those organizations,” he said.
Lesniak said that he does not think it is likely that the bill would come up for a vote, given how much time it has already spent in committee.
Unlike primary competitor Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19), Lesniak would not commit to providing free tuition for public institution students whose families made $125,000 or less, because the state would be unable to pay for it.
“What we should do is increase state aid to higher education,” he said. “We’ve been decreasing it for 20 years. We should also make the loan program more affordable for our students, we can do that, (but) we don’t have the money to make it free for that many students.”
Lesniak said he would support reforming how student loans are collected so that no student would pay more than 10 percent of their income, as well as increase the general amount of aid distributed to students.
He proposes rededicating some of the funds the state currently spends on unnecessary projects to help students.
Lesniak also wants to ensure that schools themselves are not wasting funds which could go toward student aid, he said.
“I would also have a very, very strong commissioner of higher education who would not only be on the table lobbying in the governor’s cabinet, my cabinet I hope, but also look at the universities themselves to make sure they’re spending appropriately,” he said.
Lesniak said he supports allowing undocumented immigrants to continue studying at institutions of higher education and believes they should be granted financial assistance as well. He cosponsored the New Jersey Tuition Equality Act – otherwise known as the DREAM Act – which was signed into law in 2013.
He also pledged to not cooperate with President Donald J. Trump’s deportation of undocumented immigrants, as he believes cooperating would actually weaken the safety of New Jersey.
Lesniak said he does support the deportation of criminals who are also undocumented immigrants, but that deporting those who are not breaking any laws would have a negative impact on the state.
Trump would be unable to withhold funding from New Jersey public institutions if the state did not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) due to restrictions against the commandeering of state resources under the 10th Amendment of the Constitution.
“I believe we should have a sanctuary state, that we should not be using our police forces to enforce his federal laws,” he said. “It’s harmful not only to (undocumented immigrants) as individuals – they get torn apart as families – but by sending folks underground because they’re afraid of being deported, crimes against them don’t get reported, when they’re witnesses they don’t come forward, so it’s not good for safety.”