EWING – What’s a cash-strapped government in New Jersey to do when it wants to upgrade its infrastructure? Under a law signed Tuesday, they can partner with private developers to build things from roads to libraries to schools to information technology systems.

Senate President Steve Sweeney said the new law will enable state and local governments to partner with private developers to build needed projects, as public colleges used to be able to do under a 2009 law that hasn’t accepted applications in five years.

“Public private partnerships are the most important thing we could be doing in this state,” Sweeney said. “As the governor calls for a stronger and fairer economy, this is one of the pieces that will actually build that. With private sector ingenuity, technology – they can do it better.”

Gov. Phil Murphy says it’s a big deal for infrastructure and taxpayers.

“If you compare what we’re doing today in New Jersey I think to almost any American state, we are opening this up wide. We are open for business,” Murphy said.

Higher-education institutions include Montclair State University, Stockton University and The College of New Jersey added campus developments through public-private partnerships, or P3s as they are sometimes called.

Campus Town, where the new law was signed Tuesday, includes stores, restaurants and housing for more than 600 TCNJ students. It cost $120 million, but not any tuition or public funds were used to build it.

Developer Robert Kay, the chief executive officer of the PRC Group, said both the public and private sectors each have things they do better – and that partnerships can serve each of their interests while creating infrastructure.

“And without further burdening the taxpayers of New Jersey. And who among us doesn’t like that?” Kay said.

Murphy said the law could help state and local entities upgrade transportation and water lines and build schools – all expensive propositions that taxpayers can’t easily afford.

Under the new law, public buildings, roads and other infrastructure can be leased by a public entity for as long as 30 years, in exchange for up-front or structured financing from a private developer.

Jack Kocsis, chief executive officer of the Associated Construction Contractors of New Jersey, said the new law was a long time coming, in development for seven to eight years.

“It really has the ability to advance New Jersey’s economy, and it will move much-needed public works projects that don’t have any funding attached to them,” Kocsis said.

The bill, S865, was approved 36-2 in the Senate and 72-3 in the Assembly, with five Republicans voting against the bill but the overwhelming majority in both parties in favor. The bill had a bipartisan mix of sponsors in both houses of the Legislature.

“New Jersey is going to be the lead in this country in making investments to improve our infrastructure, our universities,” Sweeney said. “It’s wonderful, but it’s just so much more we can do. We were just scratching the surface.”

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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