State approves slight raise to SUNY budget, does not address personnel wage increases

New York State Division of the Budget passed a budget for 2018-19 with additional funding for SUNY operational requirements, a dismissal of executive budget tax hikes and provisions for anti-workplace sexual harassment. 

The budget also expands the income guidelines for students seeking the Excelsior Scholarship for free tuition from a maximum of $100,000 to $110,000, according to a press release from the New York State Senate. The Educational Opportunity Program anticipated funding cuts were restored with the passage of the budget, according to Assistant Director of the Office of Financial Aid Christopher Jadlos. 

“The good news is that nothing significant as far as financial aid goes got cut, everything got continued,” Jadlos said. “Even if you’re not seeing more money, you’re seeing the continuation of the program which is good.” 

The budget also includes provisions for sexual harassment, including implementing training in the workplace, and increasing the time frame for preserving rape kits from 30 days to up to 20 years, at no additional cost to the victims, according to the State Senate press release. The budget allocates an additional $147,000 to support Rape Crisis Centers, totaling an amount close to $6.5 million, the press release said. 

All 64 colleges in the SUNY system are represented by SUNY Albany, which makes requests on behalf of the colleges, according to Interim Vice President for Administration & Finance Richard Hurley. One request was the restoration of $200 million allocated to the budget for SUNY, according to Hurley.

“The state last year promised that they were going to put $550 million in the budget each year for SUNY, the whole system,” Hurley said. “When the governor introduced his budget, he reduced that amount by $200 million, so one of SUNY’s requests was restore that $200 million and I’m happy to tell you that was done.” 

Geneseo is expected to receive $8 million for next year as a result of the restoration of these funds, which will be used for further construction and maintenance projects, including roofs, air conditioning in buildings and the next phase of the Sturges Quad project, according to Hurley.

“Our next renovation project is the Sturges-Fraser renovation project. It’s at least $30 million dollars and we’re waiting to hear if we’ll get any money to help us begin that project,” Hurley said. “We have the money now to do all the architectural work, which is what we’re doing, deciding who goes in the building and then how it will be configured if we were to go in and gut it and rebuild it inside.”

The budget does not address funding for potential hikes in employee wages, which result from union contract negotiations with the state legislature, according to Hurley. 

“The most important request that SUNY made on our behalf was to fund the expected salary increases that faculty and staff are going to get,” Hurley said. “In New York, there are unions for those employees and their contractors negotiated at the state level and we anticipate that it’ll at least be 2 percent. [There will] be some retroactive raises in there, and those costs to us are not funded.” 

Many state unions have completed contract negotiations with the state legislature, not including United University Professions, which has experienced extended negotiations for 20 months, according to UUP Geneseo President Weston Kennison. 

“Generally, what happens is that we get increases in a contract negotiation, but it hasn’t been settled yet,” Kennison said. “There are other statewide unions that have settled their contracts already so we understand what they got, and now we’re trying to finish the negotiations of our own contract.” 

Student education is supported by both tuition and taxpayer money. Over time, tuition has gradually increased and state funding has decreased, which leads to greater burden on students and less operating money for colleges, according to Kennison. 

“It may seem distant to the concerns of students, [but] that operating money allows us to pay wages that attract good faculty, allows us to actually fill the positions and when we have unfilled positions at the college … that means fewer services,” Kennison said. “It also can mean you end up doing another semester in college. We negotiate the contract and we fight for funding.” 

The budget also allows SUNY to request incremental increases in tuition to provide for operating costs, according to Hurley. 

“The reason that we’ve had these allowances for individual year increases recently is because, in years past, they would leave tuition at one rate for several years with no change and then pile on a $1,000 increase in one year,” Jadlos said. “That would really affect the students who were attending then.”

Additionally, the budget permits existing programs to continue and departments should not experience funding cuts, according to Hurley. 

“I’m delighted that there were no budget cuts,” Hurley said. “We’ve released a lot of money to make improvements in the residence halls over the summer, and the operating budgets for most of the departments are going to be level funded, meaning what they have this year they’ll get to keep for next year. Our biggest problem is the salary increase and trying to find the money to cover that.”