Gov. David Paterson has borne the brunt of the public outrage over the recession's toll on the SUNY budget - bombarded with petitions, angry editorials and sinking approval ratings.
Yet this blame is entirely misplaced. "Students Unbacked by New York" is the name of a new Facebook group that has popped up. It's a little more complicated than that.
Paterson was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. He happened to be thrust into office when the bubble burst - the financial sector profits that comprised the bulk New York's tax base imploded with the burst of the housing bubble.
By law, states - unlike the federal government - must have balanced budgets. This put Paterson in the unfortunate executioner's position, taking an axe to vital programs across the board.
There has yet to be a serious proposal from students stating where exactly they think the state's budget cuts should come from if not from SUNY. Absent save for some kind of divine intervention, budgets have to be cut for even the most highly regarded programs during a recession of this magnitude.
Fortunately, we have federal aid.
In the beginning of the year, it looked as if help was on the way. The federal stimulus package that President Barack Obama made top priority upon taking office contained $79 billion earmarked to aid state education budgets. If enacted, it would have done wonders to at least help insulate public schools from the upheaval inflicted by the recession.
This did not pan out though, as a group of 20 centrist senators took it upon themselves to arbitrarily slash $100 billion from the bill. Under the banner of fiscal responsibility, this group - led by moderate Republicans like Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and conservative Democrats like Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska - eliminated $40 billion from the fund for state education.
When the stimulus was watered down, students got hosed. A good policy that could have aided the states through tough economic times was sacrificed for the sake of passing a bill with a bipartisan façade, effectively leaving governors hung out to dry.
State governments had no choice but to balance their budgets by making painful cuts and raising taxes - two things that exacerbate recessions. The law, as Paul Krugman of The New York Times wrote, turns governors into "50 Herbert Hoovers."
Student lobbying should be focused on the federal - not state - level. The federal government has the purse strings and the ability to run up unconscionable amounts of debt to salvage education budgets across the country - if the political will is there.
Unfortunately, it will be substantially more difficult to pass something like a second round of stimulus or a state aid package right now. Prominent economists and Wall Street alike seem to believe that the economy is clawing its way toward recovery without further stimulus.
Yet policymakers should understand that this is clearly a very fragile, nascent recovery. Continuing cuts to state programs could offset the good done by federal stimulus programs. If this goes unrealized and education budgets are left to fend for themselves, we students will be stuck in a strange limbo: a country eyeing recovery, yet a campus stuck in the depths of recession.
Joel Dodge is a junior IR major who thinks we should balance the state budget by making The Lamron legal tender for all debts, public and private.