ALBANY, NEW YORK (WXXI) - Governor Paterson is getting some complaints about his decision to target public colleges and universities in the half a billion dollars worth of budget cuts that he has ordered. Among the critics, are several of his fellow Democrats in the State Senate.
Several Democratic State Senators say the Governor is "disproportionately" cutting higher education by slashing $90 million dollars from SUNY, $53 million from CUNY, and more than $35 million from the state agency that manages student aid. Senate Higher Education Chair Toby Stavisky says the amount of the public higher education cuts equal one third of the total reductions that Paterson has ordered.
"We can't single out higher education for unfair cuts," said Stavisky.
Senator Stavisky says since the recession began, there have been record increases in enrollment at public colleges from workers who've been laid off or downsized, and she says they need training now more than ever.
The Senator, who's from of Queens, was joined by Senators Darrell Aubertine of Oswego and the North Country, Neil Breslin, of Albany, William Stachowski, of Buffalo, and David Valesky, of Syracuse. They say the $90 million dollar cut to the State University system is also the exact amount that's been raised from tuition hikes of $310 dollars per semester approved by the Board last year.
Students are also unhappy. Juliette Price, with the SUNY Student Assembly, calls the cuts, combined with similar cuts in 2008, "complete robbery", and says the Governor is making an ill-considered decision.
Governor Paterson, speaking in Rochester on September 30th, seemed to agree that cutting the state's public colleges and universities was a bad idea.
"Where SUNY is concerned, they have taken some of the hardest hits in the reductions we've made so far. I'm going to view them in the future as being off-line from the other agencies," said Paterson, who said the public colleges are a valuable "resource" that's needed in a "new innovation economy".
Paterson spoke several days before the cuts were announced.
Price says students will be lobbying their legislators to try to rescind the cuts, but lawmakers can't do much about them. The Governor has the power to make the reductions without the permission of the legislature.
A spokesman for Governor Paterson's budget office says the criticisms need to be put in context. Spokesman Matt Anderson says the public colleges and universities have been exempt from the hiring freeze and early retirement programs that other state entities have been subject to, and so have not achieved as much savings as some other agencies. And he says the cuts represent just 3.6% of the schools' overall budgets.
New SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher has been cautious in her response, saying only, in a statement issued by a spokesman, that she'll be meeting with campus presidents to discuss how to manage the cuts. But, she admits it's becoming "increasingly difficult" to protect the quality of education for students in a time of "scarce resources", and predicts larger classes, and fewer course offerings.