The New York City Council restored almost $21 million in CUNY funding after the PSC and its allies waged a multi-front campaign against deep cuts proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In a sense, the union fought the mayor to a draw: the end result was that City funding remained about the same as last year.
Under the Mayor’s original FY 2012 budget proposal, CUNY’s six community colleges would have been shortchanged by $63.1 million – $37.2 million less than the original budget adopted for the current fiscal year plus another $25.9 million in unfunded mandatory expense increases. The Mayor’s push for deep cuts came on top of a $10.6 million reduction in State base aid to CUNY community colleges this year.
In the end, City Council restored $20.9 million in funds, leaving City support for CUNY in the coming fiscal year ($257.3 million) at roughly its current level ($257.1), in a budget year when most mayoral agencies were subjected to 10% cuts.
A spokesperson for City Council Higher Education Chair Ydanis Rodriguez told Clarion that during the budget talks the mayor promised not to seek mid-year cuts from CUNY. However, the final restorations did little to help CUNY meet expenses of growing enrollment, the new community college, and inflationary costs such as an expected rise in heating bills.
“In a year when cuts were being made across the board, maintaining a steady state budget is an achievement,” said PSC First Vice President Steve London. “Without the efforts of many members, the restorations would not have been made.” This year’s budget fight came on the heels of the $4 million mid-year budget restoration for CUNY that was won in January by the PSC and other CUNY advocates.
The Council maintained funding for a number of initiatives the Mayor had sought to eliminate, including CUNY’s Black Male Initiative and support for the Murphy Institute. However, funding was eliminated for the Vallone Scholarships, which provided annual stipends to CUNY students maintaining a B average or higher.
“The dismantling of the Vallone Scholarships will be harmful to a number of students,” said Paul Washington, a HEO at Medgar Evers and a member of the union’s Legislative Committee. He noted that this comes at a time when CUNY students face tuition increases of up to $300 per year in each of the next five years (see story above).
The PSC pursued a number of tactics in this year’s budget campaign. Union members testified at City Council hearings, wrote and called their elected representatives and visited them at their City Hall and district offices. From February to May, PSC members visited 129 state and local representatives, including most of the 51 City Council members.
The union combined advocacy for CUNY with a push for progressive tax reform at the State and City levels, working in coalition with other groups to oppose cuts to all essential public services and increase revenue.
While the union worked from inside City Hall, it was also active on the outside. The PSC held a rally and march from City Hall to BMCC on May 5 that drew 1,000 people. On May 12, the union joined a coalition of municipal unions and community organizations in a demonstration of more than 10,000 people in the financial district, demanding that the wealthiest New Yorkers pay their fair share.
In mid-June, a network of community and labor activists launched “Bloombergville,” a makeshift protest encampment on the sidewalk across the street from City Hall. Court rulings held that the “sleep-out” was a constitutionally protected form of free speech, and several PSC members were active in the project. The protest camp included a “free university” with nightly teach-ins by CUNY faculty, including Distinguished Professors Frances Fox Piven and Stanley Aronowitz. On the night before the budget was passed, 13 Bloombergville protesters were arrested when they blockaded the entrance to the Council office building where the final budget-cutting deals were sealed.
Ron Hayduk, a member of the Legislative Committee, said the various protests strengthened City Council’s resolve to turn back Bloomberg’s most damaging budget cuts. But he added that reversing the entire direction of New York City’s budget decisions will require action on a much greater scale.
“We have to redouble our efforts in these next budget cycles,” said Hayduk,“so we can shift the debate from how much we cut, to how we get the revenue to meet human needs. New York is a very rich city – we just have to get the money to where it’s needed most.”