Coalition calls on Cuomo to sign MOE bill
Students, faculty and lawmakers from around the state urged Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to sign a bill that would help the State and City Universities of New York pay their most basic operating costs—heat, electricity, building rentals and repairs.
CUNY and SUNY students, lawmakers and members of UUP and the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY stood united at press conferences held in Albany, Buffalo, Manhattan, Long Island and Syracuse to appeal to the governor to sign the Maintenance of Effort (MOE) bill. (S. 281-A/A.5370-A).
In Albany, UUP President Fred Kowal, above, and nearly two dozen students, lawmakers and SUNY faculty members offered deeply personal and emotional accounts of how an affordable public college education has transformed the lives of their students, their families and themselves—and how that affordable education is being compromised as student tuition money is used to cover operating expenses.
“College is not a choice these days; it is an absolute necessity,” said Kowal, who was interviewed on “The Capitol Pressroom” radio program, above, and Time Warner Cable’s “Capital Tonight” television program. “This bill is the product of an extensive bipartisan effort. Our students are paying more than they ever have, and getting less. It is time for the state to pay its fair share.”
The Legislature approved the bill in June by near-unanimous votes; it passed the Senate and Assembly with a single negative vote in each house. The governor must call for the bill by the first week of August; he then has 10 days to sign or veto it. The bill is automatically vetoed if he fails to take action within that 10-day window.
A graph next to Kowal set out the facts in simple terms: At the start of the Great Recession, the state paid more than half of SUNY’s operating costs. Now, the situation is almost reversed: Student tuition and fees account for 64 percent of the operating cost funding, and the state pays a mere 36 percent of those costs.
Students Alex Bornemisza of SUNY Buffalo State and Nadia Amin of SUNY Cortland said they knew of classmates who were unable to graduate on time because they were shut out of required courses. Other students were assigned to classes that were so overcrowded that it impaired the instructor’s ability to teach effectively and be available to all students.
Several lawmakers and faculty also spoke, including Assembly members Patricia Fahy (D-Albany)—who serves on the Higher Education Committee—John McDonald III (D-Cohoes) and Carrie Woerner (D-Round Lake). Albany Chapter President Bret Benjamin and Empire State College Chapter President Pamela Malone represented UUP.
Solidarity in Buffalo
In Buffalo, more than a dozen SUNY students from the University at Buffalo and SUNY Buffalo State joined a pair of Western New York state lawmakers and several UUP members to urge the governor to sign the MOE bill.
“This is about prioritizing the New York state public higher education system,” said state Sen. Robert Ortt (R- North Tonawanda). “The Legislature is behind this bill. This is a priority issue and we call on the governor to sign it.”
“The students have done their share and we have failed as a state to live up to our part of the bargain,” said Assemblyman Ray Walter (R-Amherst), a University at Buffalo alumnus. “We need to make sure the state invests the right amount of money to pay for day to day costs. We need to make sure the governor hears us so this bill gets signed so SUNY and our students prosper. Governor, please listen and sign this bill.”
Naima Arbaoui, a SUNY Buffalo State student and a member of New York Public Interest Research Group’s Board of Directors, echoed the legislators’ message.
“I am here today to urge Gov. Cuomo to approve this important legislation to ensure that ongoing, unprecedented annual hikes in students’ public college tuition are used for improvements in SUNY and not used to fill state budget gaps,” she said.
UUP VP for Academics Jamie Dangler thanked the Legislature for overwhelmingly passing the bill and reiterated the union’s strong support for the MOE.
“By signing this bill, the governor has a unique opportunity to strengthen the state’s commitment to public higher education and restore CUNY and SUNY as the nation’s premier public higher education systems,” she said.
Buffalo HSC Chapter President Ray Dannenhoffer and Buffalo Center Chapter delegate Darlene Mercado also spoke at the afternoon press conference.
Synergy in Syracuse
In Syracuse, nine students, nine faculty and one lawmaker asked the governor to sign the MOE bill.
Assemblyman Al Stirpe (D-Cicero), a member of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, said there's a reason the legislation passed overwhelmingly in both Houses.
"Since 2009, we were asked to do more with less," Stirpe said. "Now we've come out of the recession and I don't believe we can do more with less. On behalf of the Senate Majority, we urge the governor to do the right thing and sign the bill.
SUNY New Paltz graduate Harlan Dunn, NYPIRG’s outreach director, said tuition should not be used to fill state budget gaps.
"A major component of the NYSUNY 2020 legislation was the MOE provision for the state to provide a steady level of support from revenue generated from tuition," Dunn said. "But while state funding for SUNY and CUNY has remained largely flat, costs to maintain existing services have increased by millions of dollars. The state made up the difference by using tuition dollars, undermining its promise to students and families."
"The state has shortchanged public colleges in the budget; clearly, the priorities have been elsewhere," he added. "The effect has been to shift the burden of operating New York's public colleges from the state onto students. Lawmakers now understand the mistake that the MOE provision had in it, and the Legislature overwhelmingly passed legislation to fix this problem. Now, Gov. Cuomo can do his part and sign the bill."
Upstate Medical University Chapter President Mike Lyon, above, said tuition increases must be used to enhance academic quality at SUNY and CUNY.
"SUNY and CUNY students shouldn't have pay for basic costs traditionally covered by the state," said Lyon. "The MOE bill would make the state responsible for funding those mandatory, inflationary costs."
Also speaking for SUNY academic and professional faculty were Morrisville Chapter President Steve Hinkle and Upstate Chapter VP for Academics Rich Veenstra. Assemblyman William Magnarelli (D-Syracuse) sent representatives to the press conference to show his support for the bill.
Unified in Mineola, NYC
UUP Statewide Secretary Eileen Landy, above, led the Long Island press conference, held in Mineola. Five SUNY students stood with Landy, Old Westbury Chapter President Candelario “Kiko” Franco, Farmingdale Chapter President Vicki Janik and chapter member Bob Reganse and Stony Brook Chapter member Ed Drummond.
CUNY students and faculty leaders gathered at Baruch College in Manhattan to urge the governor to sign the MOE bill. They were joined by Assemblywoman Deborah J. Glick (D-Manhattan), the Assembly sponsor of the bill.
“This Maintenance of Effort proposal reflects the real cost of doing the business of educating our students. New cutting-edge programs demand new faculty,” Glick said. "To educate physicians to keep up with increasing demands you need to fully fund health science centers. You cannot be first if your schools scrape by from budget to budget. We need this Maintenance of Effort signed and implemented.”