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Home » Clarion » 2023 » March 2023 » Pressing lawmakers for CUNY funding

Pressing lawmakers for CUNY funding

A guide to top officials in the budget processBy SHOMIAL AHMAD

The PSC bargains in the public arena because CUNY is funded by the State and City. Decades of defunding have to be reversed if CUNY is truly to live up to its public mission of providing high-quality education to all New Yorkers. With state and city budget surpluses, the moment to better fund public higher education is now.

In the first months of the year, PSC leaders and union activists press state and local lawmakers to fully fund CUNY in their budgets. But it doesn’t end there. Union members also push for the passage of crucial legislation that affects CUNY, their students and the communities they serve. The current legislative session, which coincides with the PSC-CUNY contract expiration, is a critical moment to confront lawmakers with the day-to-day realities that faculty and staff have faced, under decades of enforced austerity in order to educate the next generation.

There are key politicians at the city and state level on whom lobbying efforts are focused. Some have a major role in the state and city budget process. The state budget is typically finalized with three politicians – the governor, the senate majority leader and the assembly speaker – in negotiations now known as “three people in a room.” (It was previously called “three men in a room,” but with a female governor and a female senate majority leader, it’s an outdated term.) Others chair committees that help shape educational priorities. Many are CUNY alumni who know firsthand what kind of access and opportunity a CUNY education grants. Over time, the PSC has developed relationships with these key lawmakers. During the next few months, the union will call on its members to address these elected officials during key pivotal moments. This guide is intended to help Clarion readers understand the roles, experiences and backgrounds of key players in the budget process.


New York Governor (2021–present)

In her first year as governor, Hochul reversed the pattern of defunding higher education in New York State. While the gains did not make up for decades of disinvestment, there was significant progress. The enacted FY 2023 budget included more than $240 million for new and recurring funding to hire more full-time faculty, close the TAP Gap and fund employee benefits and campus childcare, among other things. There was also $1 billion in new capital funding to fix CUNY infrastructure.

James Davis and Kathy Hochul

Governor Kathy Hochul, right, with PSC President James Davis (Credit: Dave Sanders)

The governor’s executive budget released in January only adds $44 million in new operating funds for CUNY above last year’s budget, which does not come close to CUNY’s needs. The PSC has advocated for more than $430 million in additional operating aid, while CUNY’s budget request to both the State and City is near that amount at $416 million. Hochul also proposed tuition increases at CUNY and SUNY, a move that goes against the union’s goal of making CUNY tuition-free. The New York governor sets the budget priorities for the State at the beginning of the calendar year with her proposed executive budget. The budget is finalized through negotiations with the NYS State Legislature by April 1, and the state constitution grants the governor tremendous influence over the final budget. Around 50% of CUNY’s overall funding comes from the State.

  • Governor of New York State (2021 –present)
  • Appointed governor after Andrew Cuomo resigned; elected to a full term in 2022
  • First woman to become governor in New York
  • Lieutenant Governor (2015–2021)
  • Former Chair, NYS Regional Economic Development Councils
  • Representative, US House of Representatives, Congressional District 26, which contains Western New York, including Buffalo (2011–2013)
  • Erie County Clerk (2007–2011)
  • Board Member, Town of Hamburg (1994–2007)
  • Worked for US Representative John LaFalce and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan
  • Catholic University of America, JD
  • Syracuse University, Bachelor’s in Political Science
  • Born in Buffalo, New York


State Senate Majority Leader (2019–present)

Stewart-Cousins leads a conference that includes a mix of some of the most progressive and more moderate lawmakers in the state. Democrats have a supermajority in the senate, which gives them the power to override a veto by the governor. In February, the NYS Senate dramatically rejected in a 39-20 vote the governor’s Court of Appeals nominee due to his anti-union and anti-abortion rights record. The senate majority leader, along with other legislative leaders, negotiates the final budget with the governor.

  • State Senator, District 35 (2007 –present)
  • Represents Greenburgh, Scarsdale, and parts of White Plains, New Rochelle, and Yonkers
  • State Senate Minority Leader (2012 –2018)
  • First woman and African-American woman Senate Majority Leader
  • Westchester County Legislator (1996–2006)
  • Director of Community Affairs, City of Yonkers (1992–1996)
  • Pace University, Master’s in Public Administration and Bachelor’s
  • Lehman College, Graduate Certificate in Business Education
  • Pace University, Bachelor’s
  • Lives in Yonkers


State Senate Higher Education Committee Chair (2019–present)

As chair of this senate committee, Stavisky shapes the agenda for higher education in the state. Senate bills on higher education, once passed by the senate, go through committee review here.

Stavisky with union leaders

Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, center, listens to state education union leaders. (Credit: El-Wise Noisette/NYSUT)

Stavisky has convened hearings on crucial issues, including regional meetings on public higher education across the state. Most recently, she helped advocate against class cancellations at two Queens campuses (see page 12). In the past, she has been especially vocal on increasing funding for the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and closing the TAP Gap. Committee chairs are also present as representatives of higher education priorities when hearings on the state budget are conducted by the Finance Committee and Ways and Means Committee.

  • State Senator, District 11 (1999 –present)*
  • Represents parts of Queens and Nassau County in Long Island
  • Trustee, City University Construction Fund (CUCF)
  • Board Member, Higher Education Capital Matching Grants Program (HeCap)
  • Former High School Social Studies Teacher, New York City
  • Hunter and Queens colleges, graduate studies
  • Syracuse University, Bachelor’s
  • Married to State Senator Leonard Stavisky (d. 1999), a City College alum and adjunct professor at Columbia University
  • Born and raised on Manhattan’s Upper West Side; currently lives in Whitestone, Queens.

*In 2022, her district changed from District 16 to 11.


State Senate sponsor for the New Deal for CUNY, S4461A

Gounardes is the lead sponsor of the New Deal for CUNY bill (ND4C), state legislation that would transform CUNY and reverse decades of defunding. Major aspects of the bill are increasing full-time faculty-to-student ratios, improving ratios of mental health counselors and academic advisors to students, professionalizing adjunct pay and making CUNY tuition-free again. Gounardes campaigned on the ND4C, launched grassroots efforts to support ND4C, and is committed to improving mental health at public colleges, a major element
in ND4C.

  • State Senator, District 26 (2019 –present)*
  • Represents parts of Brooklyn, including Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Sunset Park, Red Hook, Park Slope, Gowanus, Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights, and DUMBO
  • Chair, Committee on Budget and Revenue (2022–present)
  • Former Counsel, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams
  • Former Adjunct Associate Professor, Hunter College
  • Former Trustee, New York City Employees’ Retirement System
  • Former Aide, City Council Member Vincent Gentile
  • Cofounder, Bay Ridge Cares (which provided hot meals after Superstorm Sandy)
  • George Washington University Law School, JD
  • Hunter College, Bachelor’s in Political Science
  • Born and raised in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

*In 2022, his district changed from District 22 to 26.


State Assembly Speaker (2015–present)

Heastie leads a chamber of 150 assembly members, the majority of whom come from the five NYC boroughs. Democrats in this chamber comprise a supermajority. As assembly speaker, he plays a critical role in determining the final state budget, because he carries the chamber’s priorities into the final budget negotiation with the governor and senate majority leader. He has been receptive to increasing CUNY’s funding, and the assembly’s one-house budget last year included needed investments in CUNY.

  • State Assembly Member, District 83 (2001–present)
  • Represents parts of the Bronx, including Williamsbridge, Wakefield, Edenwald, Eastchester and Baychester
  • First African-American State Assembly Speaker
  • Former Chair, Assembly Labor Committee
  • Former Budget Analyst, Office of the NYC Comptroller
  • Former Adjunct, Monroe College
  • Baruch College, Master’s in Business Administration with a concentration in Finance
  • Stony Brook University (SUNY), Bachelor’s in Applied Mathematics and Statistics
  • Born in the Bronx


State Assembly Higher Education Chair (2023–present)

As chair of this assembly committee, Fahy shapes the agenda for higher education in the state. Assembly bills on higher education go through committee review here before they go to the full assembly for passage. The chair has convened hearings on crucial issues, including the impact of COVID on higher education and a joint hearing on higher education and mental health. Committee chairs are also present as representatives of higher education priorities as hearings on the state budget are being conducted by the Finance Committee and Ways and Means Committee.

  • State Assembly Member, District 109 (2013–present)
  • Represents Albany, New Scotland and parts of Guilderland
  • Board of Directors Member, Center for Women in Government & Civil Society, University at Albany (SUNY)
  • Associate Commissioner of Intergovernmental Affairs and Federal Policy, NYS Department of Labor
  • Former Board Member, Albany School Board; and Boys and Girls Club of Albany
  • Former Executive Director, Chicago Workforce Board
  • Former Associate Director for Employment and Training, Congressional Affair’s Office, US Department of Labor
  • Former Legislative Analyst, US House and Senate
  • Married to Wayne Bequette, a Chemical and Biological Engineering Professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • University of Illinois at Chicago, Master’s in Public Administration
  • Northern Illinois University, Bachelor’s in Political Science
  • Lives in Albany


State Assembly Sponsor for the New Deal for CUNY, A5843A

Karines Reyes and Andrew Gounardes

Karines Reyes, left, and Andrew Gounardes (Credit: Dave Sanders)

Reyes is a sponsor of the New Deal for CUNY bill, and she has talked about how a CUNY education brought her to where she is today. Central to the bill’s mission is increasing the full-time faculty-to-student ratios, improving ratios of mental health counselors and academic advisors to students, professionalizing adjunct pay and making CUNY tuition-free again. Reyes has marched with the PSC, addressed crowds at union events and is a key member of the CUNY Caucus, a group of lawmakers, PSC members and CUNY students who meet regularly to strategize around improving CUNY funding, including passing the ND4C.

  • State Assembly Member, District 87 (2019–present)
  • Represents parts of the Bronx, including Parkchester, Hunts Point, Mott Haven, Tremont, Morris Park, Kingsbridge and Riverdale
  • Chair, NY Assembly and Senate Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force (2023–present)
  • Registered Nurse, Oncology Department, Montefiore Einstein Hospital
  • Former Executive Committee Member, Einstein Hospital, New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA)
  • NYSNA Representative, speaking on nationwide community health issues
  • Nurse Volunteer, Hurricane Maria
  • Chamberlain University, Bachelor’s in Nursing
  • Baruch College, Bachelor’s in Communications
  • Bronx Community College, Associate’s in Applied Sciences


New York City Mayor (2022–present)

In his first city budget, Mayor Adams made 3% cuts to most city agencies and institutions, including CUNY, despite claiming no fiscal emergency. This year, the mayor is seeking an additional 3% cut, followed by increased cuts of 4.75% in each of the next four fiscal years. At CUNY, these cuts primarily represent unstaffed lines that will not be replaced. The FY 2024 preliminary budget funded certain CUNY programs, including CUNY Reconnect and the Inclusive Economy Initiative. The mayor sets the budget priorities for the City and all its agencies at the beginning of the calendar year with a preliminary budget. The city budget is finalized through the City Council’s negotiations with the mayor by June 30. The mayor has an outsize influence in determining funding priorities. Around 14% of CUNY’s total operating budget comes from the City, while nearly 50% of the operating budget for CUNY’s community colleges comes from the City.

  • Brooklyn Borough President (2014 –2021)
  • State Senator, District 20 (2007 –2013)
  • Police Captain, New York Police Department (1984 –2006)
  • Marist College, Master’s in Public Administration
  • John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice
  • New York City College of Technology, Associate’s
  • Born in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and grew up in South Jamaica, Queens


Adrienne Adams and Justin Brannan

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, left, with Council Finance Committee Chair Justin Brannan (Credit: John McCarten/NYC Council Media Unit)

New York City Council Speaker (2022–present)

In her first year as Council Speaker, Adams proposed the CUNY Reconnect Initiative, a $4.4 million program to encourage New Yorkers with some college credits to return to earn degrees at CUNY. The speaker has an important role in determining the final adopted city budget. Last year’s budget drew criticism from major progressive organizations, particularly with respect to Department of Education funding. The deadline for the adopted budget is June 30.

  • Council Member, District 28 (2017 –present)
  • Represents parts of Queens, including Jamaica, Richmond Hill, Rochdale Village, and South Ozone Park
  • First African-American Council Speaker
  • Former Board of Trustees Member, Queens Public Library
  • Former Chair, Education Committee, Queens Community Board 12
  • Local Planning Committee Member, Jamaica Downtown Revitalization Initiative
  • Spelman College, Bachelor’s in Psychology, minor in Early Childhood Development
  • Studied at York College
  • Grew up the daughter of union workers in Hollis, Queens


Eric Dinowitz

Eric Dinowitz (Credit: Dave Sanders)

New York City Council Committee on Higher Education Chair (2021–present)

As chair of this City Council committee, Dinowitz shapes the agenda for higher education in the City. A former public school teacher and United Federation of Teachers activist, Dinowitz has joined the PSC at various rallies to support resources for CUNY, including the New Deal for CUNY. He is on the Council’s budget negotiating team, which represents the Council in final budget negotiations with the mayor.

  • City Council Member, District 11 (2021–present)
  • Represents parts of the Bronx, including Bedford Park, Kingsbridge, Norwood, Riverdale, Van Cortlandt Village, Wakefield and Woodlawn
  • Chair, New York City Council Jewish Caucus
  • Former Special Education Teacher, New York City Public Schools
  • Former Chapter Leader, United Federation of Teachers
  • Former Aging Chair, Bronx Community Board 8
  • Hunter College, Master’s in Education
  • Binghamton University (SUNY), Bachelor’s in Music and Political Science and Government
  • Son of NY Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz, District 81 (1994 –present)
  • Born, raised and lives in the Bronx


New York City Council Committee on Finance Chair (2022–present)

As chair of the Council’s Finance Committee, Brannan and the committee oversee many city departments, including the Independent Budget Office and the Office of the Comptroller. The committee also plays a role in reviewing and modifying the city budget. Brannan directs the work of this committee and convenes hearings. Brannan has also been a major supporter of the New Deal for CUNY. He helped lead the Council effort in March 2022 in passing near-unanimous support for urging the governor and state lawmakers to pass the ND4C.

  • City Council Member, District 43 (2018–present)
  • Represents parts of Brooklyn, including Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, and Bath Beach
  • Former Chief of Staff, Council Member Vincent Gentile
  • Former Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Department of Education
  • Former Announcer and union member, WNEW-FM
  • Former Clerk, Wealth Management Division, Bear Stearns
  • Guitarist, Indecision and Most Precious Blood
  • Fordham University, Bachelor’s in Journalism
  • Studied at the College of Staten Island
  • Born and raised in Brooklyn

Published: March 9, 2023

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