State budget passes by deadline while concerns still loom over Geneseo, SUNY

The New York state budget passed both houses of the legislature last week, cementing $132.5 billion in budget cuts and no new taxes.

This year's budget was the first in five years to pass with time to spare; the state senate passed the bill on March 29 around 11:30 p.m. and the assembly did so by the following morning at around 1:30 a.m.

The final budget closely resembles the executive budget Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed two months ago. Cuomo's budget proposed a $131.4 million cut to State University of New York state-operated campuses, additional reductions in base aid for community colleges and the elimination of the state subsidiary to SUNY hospitals.

Restorations enacted in the finalized budget provide for the community colleges and SUNY hospitals, but there are no restorations for state-operated or statutory schools.

"We don't know fully how things are going to affect us because there are a number of unknowns at this point," said Ken Levison, vice president for administration and finance. "If the reduction is allocated in the same way that the cuts have been, our reduction will be around $2.2 million."

Only $84 million in restorations were made to the SUNY hospitals, however, which were originally cut by $178 million and typically require at least $100 million of state aid to operate.

"If that $16 million gap is spread to the state operated campuses, our share of that would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $900,000 in additional reductions," Levison said.

There are also questions regarding how SUNY system administration will cope with cuts. "Since they have no tuition revenue and very little [Income Fund Reimbursable] revenue, when state support gets cut, they feel that they're being cut disproportionately," Levison said.

How SUNY system administrators will maintain current programs while advancing the chancellor's strategic plan is unknown, and the apparent imbalance could result in additional reductions.

"We can probably expect at least a $2.2 million cut and potentially $3 million plus," Levison said. "Our hope would be that we could use reserves to offset a large proportion of those cuts so that there would not be a major effect on operations, at least for this coming year. Our hope would be that some kind of agreement could be hammered out between the governor and the legislature and system administration for a rational tuition plan, which might lead to an increase in tuition."

President Christopher Dahl echoed Levison, stating that expectations are to "cover those [additional] cuts out of reserves. We are not particularly interested in making further program cuts."

There is widespread support for a moderate tuition increase not only across campus, but across the SUNY system. "UB 2020," a strategic plan set forth by the University at Buffalo which discusses a tuition increase at length, did not pass in the budget, but Cuomo has agreed to revisit the issue.

"A moderate tuition increase would solve a lot of problems," Dahl said, adding that $200 increase per semester could cover the gap. "I will advocate for that with as much energy and intelligence as I can."

Likewise, students have gone to great lengths to push for a rational tuition policy. Dozens of students traveled to Albany in early March to advocate for legislative support of tuition reform.

"Our student leaders and student body have really taken a hold of the issue," Dahl said, describing their actions as comprehensive and effective. "It's just not clear to me that the governor or legislature understand how important SUNY is."