If at first you don’t succeed – try, try again.
That’s the adage guiding a united coalition of public higher education activists who backed the reintroduction of the CUNY and SUNY “maintenance of effort” (MOE) bill, which would require each annual New York State budget to include funds for CUNY and SUNY to cover the inflationary increases in operating costs at the four-year colleges, such as rent, utilities and contractual salary increases.
A new MOE bill has passed both the Senate and the NY State Assembly with bipartisan support. The PSC is aiming, during this turbulent political season, to push for the bill’s enactment into law.
“With the rollout of the Excelsior Scholarship last year, Governor Cuomo invited more New Yorkers to further their education at our world-class higher education systems,” Assembly Higher Education Committee Chair Deborah Glick said in a statement. “That commitment to students must continue with appropriate resources. The maintenance of effort legislation will make certain that SUNY and CUNY are better supported to meet the additional challenges of educating more students who have been attracted by the promise of free tuition. Enactment of this legislation will make certain that SUNY and CUNY are equipped to prepare the next generation of New Yorkers.”
While the bill gained nearly unanimous support in both houses last year, Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed the measure, and had vetoed a similar measure in 2015, as well. This new bill goes beyond the 2019 budget commitment to provide level funding and cover fringe benefit cost increases and it also would require the state to cover the increased costs of the TAP (Tuition Assistance Program) waivers as tuition increases.
While the state budget for the 2019 fiscal year has already been finalized, the union hopes that passage of the new MOE bill could relieve some of the current financial pressure CUNY faces as it negotiates the next contract with the PSC.
“This is for the next budget cycle,” said PSC legislative representative Mike Fabricant, adding that a commitment on funding for negotiated increases will make a timely contract agreement more achievable.
The MOE has long been a high priority for the union as it would start the restoration of CUNY’s financial health by ensuring that the inflation-adjusted cost of operating the four-year colleges in each system is met each year (two-year CUNY schools are partially funded by the city).
Since Governor Cuomo has already vetoed the MOE twice, it is easy to see the MOE fight as a Sisyphean affair. But 2018 has already proven to be a topsy-turvy political year. With numerous challengers in various Democratic races and the possibility of a Democrat-controlled State Senate, Governor Cuomo may be inspired to change course, if advocates raise funding for public higher education as a state priority.
“Hopefully, Governor Cuomo will do the right thing this time,” said Susan Kang, an associate professor of political science at John Jay College, who is active in New York City politics.
She continued, “In this primary season, Cuomo has moved on several issues. We know access and affordability of higher education is one of the most important issues for New Yorkers.”