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Politics

SUNY: Cuts are bad but not horrible

horse trading.jpg
Sean Hickin
/
via Flickr
In the "horse trading" ahead, SUNY will try to lessen the cuts Governor Cuomo has proposed and also wrest control of setting tuition.

Among the cuts unveiled by the governor Tuesday was a 10 percent drop in the amount sent to state university campuses. At the same time, higher education institutions have been key to Cuomo’s economic development proposals.

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The state university system has lost about a third of its state support overall in the last several budget cycles.

“I’m not going to say there’s any good news in a 10 percent cut,” says Peter Magrath, interim president of Binghamton University, one of the larger SUNY campuses. “But the bad news could have been worse because he could have decreed a larger cut than he did. He had to do something and I understand that.”

SUNY shares the fate of many of the state divisions facing steep cuts, according to Elizabeth Lyman of the Citizens Budget Commission.

"Unfortunately. we are in this situation where everyone’s belt tightening and that’s what has to happen with [SUNY] too,” Lyman says.

Proposals compromise SUNY's role as a economic pillar?

But the campuses have a key role in many of the governor’s plans for the state, including commercializing university-born technologies and small companies. 

“Personally I have no doubts that the governor is very interested and very supportive in doing what he can to further the interests of research universities within the state,” says John Simpson, outgoing president of the University at Buffalo. But Simpson is also quick to point out that each funding dip makes SUNY's task of advancing the state's economy that much more difficult.

Cuomo’s SUNY proposals may change a little during negotiations with the legislature, but Lyman says the governor has a pretty strong mandate to back up his cuts.

Yet nothing in Cuomo’s plan is written in stone, Simpson says.

“This is really the opening round in what’s going to be a long and very interesting debate,” says Simpson.

Administrators at UB, the largest SUNY school say they feel a responsibility to the other 63 state campuses to lobby, and lobby hard.

“We’re not going to leave it entirely to other folks to carry that flag,” Simpson says.  “The most obvious way other universities deal with fundamental cuts in state support is by changing the tuition.”

But control over tuition would stay in Albany under Cuomo’s current plan. If legislators don't change that during the budget process, Simpson says SUNY schools are left with few choices.

“Options that are more damaging to the university than we’ve looked at in the past. Literally, everything we do is on the table,” Simpson says. “But [Cuomo] has a miserable problem to try and deal with.”

That note of empathy from Simpson might also be read as hopefulness.  The governor included only two of three legs of the SUNY Empowerment Act stool in his budget (freeing up schools to partner with private business, and changes to procurement rules, but not setting their own tuition rates).

But Simpson says that's a good start going into the legislative season.

“In the horse trading that goes on as part of the legislative session, who knows [what will happen]?" he says. 

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