SUNY, Geneseo consider impacts of proposed changes to state budget

The budget process for the State of New York is now underway, as New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced earlier in January. Geneseo and the SUNY system as a whole will now begin the process of creating their own budgets for the 2019 fiscal year.

The state executive budget will be altered between now and the time of its final passage, SUNY Student Assembly President Marc Cohen said in a phone interview. 

“It’s the time now where they’re going back and making changes to the budget based on legislative meetings,” Cohen said. “The SUNY Student Assembly plays an important role in this phase.”

The SUNY Student Assembly can request additional funding from the New York State legislature when the governor has not allocated enough, according to Cohen. 

“We’ve advocated for a number of initiatives, such as food security, mental health, tele-counseling, the DREAM Act and community college funding,” Cohen said. “These are all things we believe did not get enough funding. This is where the game is played. The governor consistently cuts aid to [Educational Opportunity Programs] and [Access Opportunity Programs]. He cut it to the tune of $10.4 million this year from the executive budget.” 

Cuomo makes these funding cuts for political reasons, because he knows that the legislature will restore them, according to Cohen.

“The [legislature] appreciates these programs enough that the governor can cut it out of his budget to make it as small as possible and then say to the legislature, ‘Wait a minute, you’re the ones driving up the deficit,’” Cohen said.

For Geneseo specifically, the process works a bit differently. A final budget is far away, according to Director of Accounting Services Jeffrey Nordland. 

“We start with our revenue projections,” Nordland said. “We’re anticipating another $200-a-year tuition increase on the non-excelsior students, because the excelsior [program tuition rates] are frozen. And I’ll work with enrollment services and institutional research to do a projection on what that would yield for us.” 

After the college’s revenue is predicted, salary increases are factored in. Nordland expects that the budget will provide less money for the college in relative terms. 

“I don’t want to call it a budget cut, but the additional revenue won’t cover the costs,” Nordland said. “It’s not literally a cut from the state, but the revenues will not match the new expenses.”

Interim Vice President for Administration and Finance Richard V. Hurley reports that the next step is to establish priorities and determine how to address the funding issues. 

“I’m not a fan of promoting a budget increase exercise if we really don’t have anything to hand out at the end of the day, and that’s where it seems like we sit right now,” Hurley said. “If the state had funded the negotiated salary increases, we’d probably be in a different position, but the fact that they haven’t puts us in a hole of around $1.5 million right from the start.” 

On top of Geneseo’s potential issues, Hurley noted that New York State itself is currently in a difficult position. 

“Looming over us in New York, you hear rumblings about a $4 billion budget shortfall,” Hurley said. “I should be grateful, I guess, that the introduced budget didn’t have a cut in it for us.”

Despite the disparity between revenue and costs, Hurley indicated that the college is not looking to make cuts. 

“You can’t cut your way out of it,” Hurley said. “If I cut a million and a half to absorb that cost, well what am I going to do next year?”

Nordland agreed with Hurley that budget cuts are not common practice.

 “That’s a very rare and very hard thought-out process. As far as now, we’re not looking at cutting our way out of it, we’re looking at growing our way out of it and being strategic,” Nordland said.

In the long term, Hurley stressed the importance of generating new revenue for Geneseo.

“One of the main reasons I’m here is the president heard that I have a reputation at my other institution for doing a lot of alternative revenue generating projects, and so I’m looking at all those possibilities here,” Hurley said. 

The college is currently piloting different programs meant to increase revenue. One such project already underway is the creation of a winter intersession for classes between fall and spring semesters.

Hurley also emphasized the importance of maintaining the quality of student experiences in considering the college budget.  

“For us, I would say our priority is to protect the academic program here. I mean, that’s why you’re here,” Hurley said. “At the end of the day, if you’re not happy, you’re not coming back, so that’s what we’re about, making you happy, making sure you succeed when you get out of here and get a good experience. That’s the business model we have.”

Cohen believes that the trend of budget cutting and increasing tuition costs reflects a pattern that the state should avoid.

 “We are a public system of higher education which demands public support,” Cohen said. “We cannot keep increasing tuition and fees to offset budgetary issues. Saddling students and families with that debt is just not fair.”