Alex Vitale (front left) of Brooklyn College and PSC First Vice President Steve London (front right) meet with State Sen. Marty Golden. Behind Vitale are Ed Snajr and Shonna Trinch of John Jay.
On February 1, Governor Andrew Cuomo presented the first budget proposal of his administration, with a heavy emphasis on budget cuts and no new taxes. PSC activists warned that the plan would cripple community colleges and undermine quality of instruction throughout CUNY.
The governor’s proposed budget for CUNY senior colleges would carry over a $11.9 million cut, enacted in the middle of the current budget year, and would impose an additional cut of $83.2 million, for a total reduction of $95.1 million in direct state aid. Continuation of most of last year’s cuts to the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) is also part of the governor’s budget plan (only the $75 per award was restored), along with a 10% drop in community college base aid funding, by lowering base aid by $226 per full-time equivalent student (FTE). If enacted, this would bring the total reduction in State FTE base aid to community colleges over the last three years to $641 per FTE – a cut of almost 25%.
PSC leaders say that the governor’s deep cuts to education, healthcare and social services threaten the state’s economic recovery and unfairly target the most vulnerable. Cuomo firmly opposed renewal of the income tax surcharge on the state’s highest paid – the so-called “millionaire’s tax” – adopted last year, and has refused to consider other progressive revenue proposals.
“Larger class sizes, fewer courses, fewer full-time faculty, less student mentoring and guidance, longer time to graduation, and more students failing and dropping out – these are the choices Governor Cuomo made in his budget,” said PSC First-Vice President Steve London “Instead of asking millionaires to pay a little more, Cuomo would ask CUNY students to put their future on hold. That will hurt all New Yorkers.”
Union leaders argue that the governor’s plan essentially delivers a Bush-era tax cut to those who need it least, while forcing new costs onto those who are struggling to overcome New York’s huge – and growing – economic inequalities.
Cuomo’s budget proposal would make permanent the cuts to TAP that were enacted during last year’s budget process. The current-year implementation of these cuts has reduced or eliminated TAP aid for graduate students, dependents of retired workers, and students who are struggling with their federal student loans or grades.
Instead of making it harder to get a college education, CUNY faculty and staff said that New York needs to provide its students with a path to opportunity.
“During the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt understood that government had to play an active role in expanding economic activity and opportunity,” said Ron Hayduk, an associate professor at BMCC and member of the PSC Legislative Committee. “In those hard times, New York made the smart decision to expand public higher education, founding Brooklyn College, Queens College, and the campus that became Lehman. But instead of following Roosevelt’s example, Cuomo’s budget is closer to Herbert Hoover’s.”
PSC members are mounting an intense program of public education, organizing and direct advocacy to expose the danger of the state’s continued disinvestment in CUNY and press for better budget alternatives.
On February 4, just days after the release of the governor’s executive budget, PSC members from chapters across the city met face-to-face with key members of the State Legislature in their district offices. The visits, part of New York State United Teachers’ statewide resistance against Cuomo’s call for deep cuts to both higher education and K-12 schools, focused on both the specific issues that impact CUNY and the need for realistic, progressive revenue measures instead of slashing education.
“In Queens, we were especially pleased that legislators we met with – Senator Stavisky, Senator Avella and Assemblymember Lancman – all said they are are prepared to support extending the income tax surcharge despite the governor’s opposition,” said Eileen Moran, member of the Legislation Committee.
Moran noted that the PSC and its allies won a partial victory against the odds in reversing some of Mayor Bloomberg’s mid-year budget cuts. On January 6, the City Council restored $4 million to CUNY community colleges out of a $11.8 million mid-year cut. The bulk of the $4 million restoration will be directed to instruction. The organizing behind this gain included PSC members collecting petitions, reaching out to their students, mobilizing for a rally and press conference, and presenting testimony at a special City Council hearing.
“When PSC members get involved, it makes a difference,” said Moran. “The relationships that we build with legislators are critical to our ability to have an impact.”
In addition to district visits, the PSC is also organizing a number of grassroots lobbying days in Albany – including a March 15 joint effort with the CUNY University Student Senate (USS), the NY Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), and United University Professions (UUP), SUNY’s union of faculty and professional staff.
“Coalition-building is key to a strong fight as we go forward, especially dealing with budget cuts of this magnitude,” said USS Chair Cory Provost. “The best way to get any results is for all the parties affected to come together.”
ACTION IN ALBANY
Community colleges are a big target of some of the governor’s cuts, Provost said, and restoring those funds needs to be a major focus. “If his plan goes through, the community colleges are going to take a beating,” Provost told Clarion.
In addition to March 15, the PSC is planning grassroots lobbying trips to Albany on March 7-8, 21-22, and May 9-10. For more information on these Albany efforts, or meetings in local legislative districts, e-mail Amanda Magalhaes, or call her in the PSC office at 212-354-1252 x221.
“With a budget deficit of this size, the conversation about the budget must include consideration of ways of increasing revenue,” said PSC President Barbara Bowen in February 10 testimony at a joint hearing of the Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee in Albany. “And we can’t have an honest discussion about revenue without addressing the growing income inequality in New York State.”
New York is now facing a level of income disparity it has not seen since 1928, she noted. In New York City, for example, the top 1% of income earners collect 44% of all income.
“With two trillion dollars sitting on the corporate balance sheets and record profits for the Wall Street firms responsible for the financial crisis that precipitated the State’s budget shortfall, we should be talking about ways to ask those who benefit most from our system to pay their fair share,” Bowen said, “not about further enriching them while crushing the middle class.”