Feeding such concerns are the divergent analyses of three state entities - the Treasury, the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services, and Rutgers itself - of the costs of moving almost all of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey into Rutgers, merging part of UMDNJ into Rowan University, and affiliating Rutgers-Camden with Rowan.
It's not just about reprinting letterheads.
Will Rutgers have to undergo a costly bond reissue and potentially face a credit downgrade once it takes on UMDNJ's lower-rated debt? Will the mergers mean the universities can save money because they won't need as many employees? How much will new signs and letterheads cost?
Critics say there has been no comprehensive cost analysis of the mergers even as the Legislature is set to vote on the plan next week.
Alan Marcus, a business consultant and Republican lobbyist who has been active in state politics for four decades, said figuring out the exact costs would likely take at least a year and there's little upside for politicians in doing it early in the process.
"You'd set up a whole new group of opponents," he said. "It's kind of like revenue estimates. Obviously, figuring that out should be pretty easy, but every year, there are these different viewpoints. Numbers are shaped to work in different ways by different people."
So far, Christie and the powerful South Jersey Democrats who back the overhaul say they expect the price tag to be minimal.
Legislative backers, supported by a "fiscal note" from the Treasury Department, say the costs will largely be borne by the schools, not taxpayers - though the latest version of the legislation offers a state guarantee should the schools' costs turn out to be greater than expected.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), the plan's chief backer in the Legislature, declined to be interviewed for this article but issued a statement.
"The long-term benefits of this plan far outweigh any short-term costs, in terms of money saved from a more efficient system, the jobs to be created, and the expected increase in research funding flowing into New Jersey," it read.
The Governor's Office did not respond to an e-mail for comment.
Cryan, who is among those who wants to slow the legislative train, said in an interview "the reason for the rush is it creates the inevitability of it occurring. There's a philosophy of, you could always fix it later. And all of us know this thing is going to cost a ton of money."
Waiting is something Rutgers officials also have pushed for since Sweeney introduced his legislation this month in expectation of getting it passed by July 1, a deadline set by the governor.
Last week, Candace Straight, a Christie appointee to the Rutgers board of governors, raised a cautionary flag, testifying that without changes, the restructuring could mean double-digit tuition hikes for Rutgers students.
The big question is whether Rutgers will have to reissue its bonds, an eventuality that the university believes will cost $155 million.
Treasury officials, on the other hand, say reissuing the bonds won't be necessary and the shifting of debt from UMDNJ to Rutgers would actually save $55 million because of Rutgers' superior credit rating. The Office of Legislative Services (OLS) says it doesn't have enough information to make a determination.
Donald Langevoort, a securities law professor at Georgetown University, said significant changes to an institution could require a bond reissue but determining whether that is necessary is "really a matter of contract interpretation."
Even the up-front bureaucratic costs of the overhaul, matters such as new ID cards, combining payroll departments, and hiring transition consultants, are unclear.
The OLS report notes that Rutgers alone estimates those costs at $20 million to $40 million. Treasury doesn't provide a number, saying simply that those costs will likely be spread over years and "will be de minimus as a percentage of the institutions' total operating budgets."
Though such uncertainty at this late stage might surprise the typical taxpayer, it's not uncommon even on large pieces of legislation, said John Weingart, associate director at the Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics.
"There's a moment where the stars align politically and proponents don't want to wait to do the analysis. That happens with all sorts of legislation," he said.
Though the costs of the university mergers remained unclear, one concrete number has been put forward by the Legislature.
Next week, lawmakers are scheduled to vote on a $750 million bond issue to fund renovations and new construction at all the state's universities, the first in decades.
Already, legislators are jockeying for projects in their districts.
So far, legislators have managed to avoid getting into the specifics that can derail policy debates. But once they go out to sell bonds, there will be a demand to know the exact costs and purpose of each project, said Ingrid Reed, a policy analyst and retired politics professor.
"To sell a bond issue, you're going to have to know exactly what you're going to buy with the $750 million they want voters to approve," she said.
Contact James Osborne at 856-779-3876 or email@example.com.
Inquirer staff writer Matt Katz contributed to this article.