The struggle goes on
Unions like the PSC were already facing a tough challenge when it came to fighting for a fair state budget agreement.
Since the start of 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s new state budget plan has had no new revenue channels for the state and forecasted a $6 billion budget deficit. The PSC and other advocates pushed – through lobbying, CUNY-wide demonstrations and social media campaigns – for a state budget that included new taxes on the wealthiest in order to fund vital public programs and services, including CUNY. Many state lawmakers agreed with the union’s position.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed things. The new budget agreement maintains austerity, and the decrease in tax revenue caused by the crisis has forced the estimated shortfall to balloon to as much as $15 billion. It also fails to include any new tax revenue from the wealthiest. Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou didn’t mince words when she said on Facebook, “This budget…is completely terrible. Sorry, New York.”
“It looks, for CUNY, as though this budget is essentially the same budget proposed by Cuomo back in January,” said Mike Fabricant, the union’s legislative representative. “There are no year-over-year real increases except in fringe benefits. All of this represents a cut to the extent that largely it is the same budget as a year ago, and on top of that, it reflects the decline in state investment over the last decade.”
Community college aid remains flat, childcare centers will be cut by half a million dollars and there will be cuts to ASAP and other programs. The budget also includes the sale of some CUNY buildings to the state.
The city also announced a $20-million cut with a “temporary delay of new cohort of freshmen for CUNY ASAP program,” affecting community colleges.
More generally, the budget gives the governor the ability to make midyear cuts, and critics say there is no additional funding for K-12 schools. To get a sense of how inhumane this budget is, just remember this: it includes hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid cuts during a global health pandemic.
For Fabricant, giving the governor unilateral authority to make midyear cuts is the most worrisome aspect. “It is troubling down the road,” he said. “What kind of cuts is the governor going to exact upon CUNY given his absolute unwillingness to tax the wealthy?”
PSC President Barbara Bowen blasted college presidents who, even before the state issued any major cuts to CUNY, demanded and threatened cuts locally. In a message to members, Bowen called the local cuts unnecessary, and said that they “undermined the entire university” because they send “the message that cuts to CUNY are inevitable and acceptable,” adding, “they are neither.”
In addition to fighting those local cuts, the union stated that the only way to stave off further cuts to public services in the state was to advocate for more state revenue, through more taxation of the wealthy and advocacy for federal funding.
“We are in a circumstance where revenues are likely to fall for the state,” Fabricant said. “That’s a real recipe for disaster over time.”