No sooner had Governor Andrew M. Cuomo released his executive budget on January 13 than an outcry erupted. At issue was an apparent $800 million in funding cuts to New York City-based programs and institutions, including a demand that the city pick up $485 million of the tab for running the senior colleges of the City University of New York, around 30 percent of CUNY’s overall state funding for the senior colleges.
At the same time, however, the governor included a $240 million line item in his budget for payment of retroactive, collectively bargained pay raises for CUNY employees, who have not had a salary increase in at least six years.
“Hey, Blaz, hope you played Powerball!” shouted the cover of the next day’s New York Daily News, which in its editorial accused Cuomo of giving “a big punch in the face to New York City.”
In a statement released to the press, PSC President Barbara Bowen expressed appreciation of the money earmarked for raises, noting, however, that while “the governor called education a ‘ladder to climb out of poverty, … a $485 million budget cut would destroy that ladder for CUNY students.”
CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken expressed no concern over the proposed cost-shifting, saying in a statement that for the university’s coffers, the suggested change appeared to be “budget neutral.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio described the governor’s budget as “debilitating,” vowing to resist the funding cuts “by any means necessary.”
The governor soon dialed back his rhetoric, saying that the savings required by the state in its spending on CUNY and health services delivered to city residents could be achieved through “streamlining efficiency” and “policy changes” at CUNY and in Medicaid administration.
“I am taking the governor at his word and I will hold him to that word,” de Blasio said when he presented the city’s executive budget the following week. Then, on January 26, the mayor appeared before a joint committee of the state legislature in a hearing that The New York Times described as “a five-hour slog.”
City Comptroller Scott Stringer also appeared that day before the same committee, telling lawmakers that an analysis by his office showed that “if aid to CUNY had grown at the same rate as the state’s operating budget over the last seven years, the system would have an additional $637 million on hand today.”
Analysis by the PSC shows that state funding per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student, adjusted for inflation, has decreased 17 percent since 2008.
“It’s just a constant, constant austerity, even though we’re way past the recession,” Bowen said in a January 15 interview with New York Times reporter Vivian Yee. “That’s why we say that the discussion should be about increasing resources to CUNY after this long starvation, not just who’s going to take responsibility for already inadequate funding.”
Bowen is scheduled to testify on February 8 before the state legislature’s Joint Higher Education Committee. She is expected to press lawmakers to honor the governor’s line item for back pay, but also to call for “a true maintenance-of-effort provision” to be included in the final budget for CUNY and SUNY four-year schools, as well as an addition of $250 per FTE student to base community college aid, restoration of funds that were cut from programs such as ASAP, adjustments to the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), and inclusion of the DREAM Act in the final state budget. Bowen also said she plans to prevail upon legislators at both the state and city levels to increase CUNY funding.
The state legislature is required to complete the budget deliberation process by the end of March.