Governor David Paterson, faced with an even larger deficit than expected in 2009, seems determined to solve New York State's economic problems by cutting benefits, services, government jobs, and yes, higher education.
The Gov has called for an emergency session of the State Legislature beginning Tuesday, August 19 and has proposed $1 billion in new cuts for this year purportedly to stave off deeper cuts next year. Of course, you can't cut yourself out of the crisis. Judicious use of new taxes on the rich and the big corporations can address the immediate budget problems and help put money back into the pockets of working people, which is the only way to really help the economy in the long-run.
Unfortunately, Paterson is also proposing a cap on taxes along with the cuts. By rejecting the proposal by some Albany Democrats for a new 1 percent tax on millionaires, Paterson leaves little room to do anything more than cut.
One of the biggest proposed cuts is to higher education spending in the state. Already in the budget adopted in April, the State University of New York (SUNY) had a whopping $150 million in cuts, and now the Governor's proposal would additionally cut $50 million from TAP (Tuition Assistance Program), $51 million from the City University of New York (CUNY), and 6% across the board from all "opportunities programs." The proposal even put on the chopping block the new Veteran's Tuition Assistance Program, which stand to lose 50 percent of its budget.
But students aren't having it. The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), the Student Assembly of the State University of New York, and University Student Senate of the City University of New York have come together to call on the State Legislators to reject the Governor's cuts.
In a letter to the leadership of the State Assembly and the State Senate, they stated argued,
"Students understand the gravity of the state’s economic situation, but we submit that the benefits of affordable, accessible, high-quality public higher education far outweigh the costs. Higher education’s power as an economic engine and its potential for workforce development and innovation has been well documented, and represent the state’s best chance to pull quickly out of this economic nosedive."The student groups point out the obvious: that cuts to higher education disproportionately impact low-income and working class youth and their families. At a time when gas, grocery, transportation and housing prices are digging deep, cutting tuition assistance programs and financial aid doesn't spread the pain, it concentrates it on this already hardest hit.
"Some students who need TAP to pay for school could end up deeper in debt or unable to pay for school at all," said Cheryl Lynch, NYPIRG's Chairperson, and Stony Brook University student in a press release. "Just as bad, students enrolled in opportunity programs could find the support structures they've come to depend on severely weakened."Today, a press conference was held with New York City Council Member Charles Barron, the lone member of that body to vote against the recent City budget that included many cuts to human services. Students plan to lobby their representatives in Albany beginning Monday. A call from you wouldn't hurt either.
For more on the nationwide crisis of State Budgets, check out the article, "Got Money?" By Marilyn Bechtel.
Look for a full article on proposed education cuts in next week's People's Weekly World.