SUNY Cuts Despite Cash Hoard - Senator urges use of balances to halt layoffs at 64 campuses

 

By JAMES M. ODATO, Capitol bureau
First published in print: Wednesday, July 8, 2009
 
ALBANY -- It didn't take long for the new State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher to get under a lawmaker's skin.
   
Zimpher, who took the reins June 1, was blasted by state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky, D-Queens, for refusing to direct hundreds of millions of dollars in funds to the system's 64 campuses to avoid program and faculty cuts. Stavisky wrote to Zimpher on June 17, but didn't get a response; the senator released her complaint to the media on Tuesday.

Stavisky, who was appointed in January to chair the Senate Higher Education Committee, complained SUNY decided against distributing $75 million from an account with a $450 million cash balance. The state Division of the Budget proposed using the $75 million to help avoid cutbacks in the wake of last year's midyear budget correction. SUNY also declined to use another $40 million from the cash balance this year as recommended by the state Division of the Budget.

"Because of SUNY's refusal to use these balances, many of the campuses are now making substantial cuts and drastic changes in their work forces and operations," Stavisky said.

The SUNY Student Assembly disagreed with Stavisky's plan, saying the funds in the accounts were collected for specific purposes from fees on students, and should not be used to plug shortfalls in operating revenues.

"Asking SUNY to use dollars collected from fees to supplement what was supposed to have been covered by tuition and state support is asking students to pay twice for that service," said Melody Mercedes, Student Assembly president. "When students pay fees collected by their campuses, they expect to receive the product they paid for."

But the accounts with surplus funds are supposed to be for emergencies, Stavisky said, and she believes SUNY is facing an emergency right now.

SUNY spokesman David Henahan said Zimpher would not discuss the matter in public.

James M. Odato can be reached at 454-5083 or jodato@timesunion.com