Students urge advocacy in budget crisis

A committee of students has mounted a campaign encouraging others to voice opposition in response to SUNY budgetary cuts enacted by Gov. David Paterson and the New York State Legislature.

Junior Nicholas Kaasik, vice president of Student Association, sent a written appeal to all students through the campus mail system asking that they call Paterson, as well as their district assemblypersons and senator.

In addition, flyers and notes have been placed in academic classrooms, Milne Library and campus eateries urging students to call their representatives to express concern about the cuts to the SUNY budget. Kaasik said that many state assemblypersons and senators do not receive many calls from their constituents, so it is worth the time to call and have your concern noted.

Kaasik said the goal of the project was, "Making every single student at Geneseo aware of what's going on."

A particular emphasis of the project has been to rally support for Bill A07638 known informally as the "Bundy Bill." The bill would eliminate state aid for certain private colleges and universities located within New York and redirect those savings to the SUNY and CUNY systems.

Although the committee has the support of SA, it functions as an independent "ad hoc committee" with weekly meetings for interested students. Junior Will Labate, a member of the SUNY Student Assembly, is heading the campaign. "If every student put in a little bit, we could definitely achieve some sort of change on the state level," he said.

Labate and interested students will be manning a table in the College Union during the all-college free hour each week where students can sign letters that will be sent to the governor's office as well as to state representatives. Future projects may include a campout on either the College Green or Sturges Quad to raise awareness and promote student advocacy.

In October, Paterson announced a plan to cut $90 million from SUNY's budget in addition to the $143 million in cuts last year. Last year's cuts spurred a $600 increase in tuition for all SUNY campuses and required Geneseo to mandate a hiring freeze, utilize reserve as well as Income Fund Reimbursable monies and reduce other-than-personnel-services budgets.

"All of the actions we've taken [so far] are essentially one-time actions," said Kenneth Levison, vice president for administration and finance. He said that while the steps taken since the initial cuts last year have temporarily closed the $1.7 million gap, the college will need to make major adjustments assuming the state's financial crisis continues.

In addition, Paterson has mandated that state agencies may not request any more than a flat budget from the state, meaning that the college will have to absorb an additional $1.6 million in obligatory salary increases without having additional funds with which to pay them.

The state's financial crisis continues to worsen; last month, Paterson announced that the state may have difficulty paying its December bills. "The state does not have the wherewithal to appropriate more money to any agency," Levison said.

Levison said that ideally, the SUNY system would be reclassified by the state legislature as a non-state agency supported through the appropriation of local assistance funds. If this were to be the case, the governor would not be able to make cuts unless they were approved by the legislature. "In times of fiscal stress, tradeoff can be flexibility," Levison said. Chances of such a transition happening in the foreseeable future, however, are "not terribly realistic."

"I think we should be taking direct action against this," said sophomore Nick Marrone. "Education is completely underfunded in the state of New York."

Other students said they were skeptical. "I don't know who to call," said freshman Gideon Cohen.

"I don't really know enough about the situation, but I would call if I knew where to go to learn more," said freshman Jillian McPherson.

"I doubt I'm going to call because I don't think it's going to make much of a difference," said freshman Kevin Maloney.

Students interested in the Geneseo campaign can contact Labate at Gov. Paterson's office can be reached at 518-474-8390.