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Home » Clarion » 2016 » April 2016 » Budget deal avoids disaster, remains austere

Budget deal avoids disaster, remains austere


No funding for PSC contract

Students lobby legislators in Albany last February for CUNY and SUNY funding.

In a dramatic display of brinkmanship, the New York State legislature passed a budget in the early hours of April, after the March 31 deadline had come and gone.

Two things that were not included in the bill were Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed $485 million cut to the state’s allocation for CUNY senior colleges and the authority to raise tuition for the coming year that was requested by CUNY management. The PSC and the University Student Senate of CUNY, along with such allies as NYPIRG and NYSUT, had launched a fierce campaign to prevent those proposals from making it into the final budget legislation, and won. The PSC and student advocates called for new investment of public funds, rather than ever-higher tuition, but the final budget did not make the new investment.

Major Cuts Avoided

“By restoring the $485 million to the state budget for CUNY, Cuomo simply solves a manufactured crisis and restores CUNY to austerity,” wrote PSC President Barbara Bowen in an email sent to members during the final days of budget negotiations.

Indeed, the budget news was far from good for the university. Also omitted from the bill was the $240 million the governor had initially cited in his executive budget for back pay in anticipation of settlements with the PSC and other CUNY unions. (CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken had urged lawmakers to allocate $330 million.) According to observers in the Capitol, in the days leading up to the vote all indications were that the legislature was prepared to provide the funding, but when legislative leaders emerged from negotiations with the governor, monies for back pay were off the table in the budget deal.

However, state Budget Director Robert Mujica said at a March 31 news conference with the governor that the state would “address” the question of funding for the PSC contract once CUNY had settled with the union.

“The PSC will hold the governor to that statement,” Bowen told PSC members.

Negotiation of the contract, which expired five years ago, is still ongoing under the aegis of a mediator appointed by the state Public Employment Relations Board.

Bargaining Continues

In a written statement, Milliken said, “We are hopeful we can reach a fair settlement soon and that the state and city will provide funding to resolve these long outstanding contracts.”

The overall allocation for CUNY senior colleges, already far from adequate, barely increased at all — less than 1 percent. And while legislators protected students from a tuition hike for one year, they did not replace with state dollars the revenue CUNY would have collected via increased tuition. In addition, students eligible for the maximum grant from state’s Tuition Assistance Program do not receive funding for the full tuition bill, but the state requires CUNY to grant waivers to make up the difference, costing the university $49 million annually, according to the University Budget Office. Community colleges fared somewhat better as the legislature increased Base Aid by $100 per full-time equivalent (FTE) student, adding approximately $17 million for next year.

A Slight Increase

Although the legislature has supported “maintenance of effort” funding for CUNY and SUNY as recently as last summer — when it passed a bill that would have funded such mandatory cost increases as utility fees and collective bargaining, only to see it vetoed by the governor in December — the budget passed earlier this month includes no such allocation.

Other measures folded into the budget deal, however, include paid family leave, a statewide provision for raising the minimum wage, as well as a middle-income tax cut.

PSC leaders plan to continue to press the legislature for additional funding for CUNY, and for the resources needed to settle the PSC contract. The state legislative session ends on June 16.

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observe a bargaining session after attending an online orientation.