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October 25, 2009

NY fiscal crisis strikes hard at higher education

Paterson plan would cut SUNY by $90 million

ALBANY — New York is poised for another round of midyear cuts in both public university systems and in financial aid under the Tuition Assistance Program, which affect hundreds of thousands of families.

Legislative leaders are now analyzing the cuts proposed by Gov. David Paterson to deal with a deficit in the current budget of more than $3 billion.

United University Professions union President Phillip H. Smith calls the proposal unfair and counterproductive to a strong recovery. He said the cut will shift more costs to students and their families, force higher tuition and fees, hurt on-time graduation by offering fewer classes and result in fewer full-time professors.

He notes the cuts come after a midyear cut in 2008 and, unlike most state-funded agencies, a decade of little growth in SUNY funding.

"I can't deny that the state is in a tremendous financial mess," Smith said. "There has to be cutbacks. But my question is: Why can't we look at this from more of a strategic point of view?"

Other cuts can be made that won't threaten the state's future as starkly as decreasing education funding would, he said, although he didn't offer examples.

"It will have a chilling effect on CUNY's plans," CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein told an Assembly hearing Friday, nothing that CUNY's senior colleges took a $68.3 million cut last year. "We must prevent the damage that will result from a sustained period of reductions."

It's the kind of comment that governors and lawmakers usually make, not challenge.

"We're staring down a $3 billion midyear budget gap, and we should all be working together in the spirit of shared sacrifice to address it," said state Budget Division spokesman Matt Anderson. "Simply decrying proposed cuts without offering real, alternative savings doesn't reduce a dime of our deficit and ignores the stark choices we need to make in the current environment."

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