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NY Lawmakers Get Earful on SUNY Education Cuts

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 By Mike CliffordContact
January 28, 2010

ALBANY, N.Y. - On the same day that President Obama pledged to pour billions more dollars into education, New York state lawmakers reviewing Gov. Paterson's Executive Budget were told the State University of New York (SUNY) cannot take any more cuts.

United University Professions president Phillip H. Smith testified before the joint legislative committee reviewing the education budget. He said SUNY is already turning away tens of thousands of qualified students, and even more will be turned away if Paterson's proposed cut of $118 million is enacted. Smith says SUNY would be losing one quarter of its operating budget. That would leave SUNY's 29 campuses trying to meet the needs of 2010 with a lot less funding than it had 20 years ago.

"Funding for SUNY, if this is allowed to go forward, would be $80 million dollars less than it was in 1990 - and yet we have 40,000 more students in our institutions."

Paterson has acknowledged the cuts are deep, but the governor says he is left with no alternative because of the recession and lawmakers' unwillingness to erase all of the state's budget deficit.

Smith says no other agency even comes close to the money being cut from SUNY. He says if lawmakers enact Paterson's latest proposal, the net effect over 2 years would be a half-billion dollar loss to SUNY.

"It turns out that that would be a 25 percent cut to the budgets of all agencies combined. It just begs the question - why is public higher education being targeted in this manner?"

While SUNY's chancellor and campus presidents have spoken in favor of Paterson's so-called "empowerment plan," which would allow individual campuses to set their own tuition, Smith told lawmakers he is concerned that would open the door to even more budget cuts for SUNY.

"The feedback I got is that there wasn't a whole lot of support for the governor's plan. I think there is going to be some difficulty in the governor getting this thing through - and for SUNY's sake, I hope that's the case."

In his State of the Union message on Wednesday, President Obama pledged to work with Congress to renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. He is expected to request a funding increase of several billion dollars.

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