Jan. 25, 2015

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Kowal criticizes governor’s so-called ‘Opportunity Agenda’

uupdate 1-25-15

UUP President Fred Kowal had strong words for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2015 “Opportunity Agenda,” calling it a “cleverly designed, slick package of giveaways and takeaways that will bring about the slow destruction of the public good.”

In a powerful Jan. 25 speech to delegates at the 2015 Winter Delegate Assembly in Albany, Kowal said that the governor’s proposal was little more than an “exploitation agenda” that favors big business over low-income, high-needs and working-class New Yorkers.

He tore at the governor’s plans for a performance-based assessment system for SUNY campuses and assailed Cuomo’s plans to cut funding to the state’s public hospitals and allow private companies to own and operate five of the facilities.

“Though he calls his program the Opportunity Agenda, it is an opportunity only for profiteers, for corporations looking for a ready supply of trained labor, and for those who would dismantle the great tradition of an education … for all who seek it in our great state,” said Kowal.

“So to those in this city and this state who see the governor’s Opportunity Agenda as the way forward, I have news for you: There is a gathering movement of New Yorkers who reject the cynicism and manipulation of the truth, and who embrace hope and a better future for all,” he continued. “And we in UUP are in the vanguard of that movement.”

Education for all

Kowal, who won a standing ovation from the more than 200 delegates at the DA, said the fight for accessible, affordable, quality public education for all is a civil rights issue that UUP must stand and fight for. Cuomo’s Executive Budget pushes that objective aside in favor of proposals that set the university up as a glorified trade school poised to provide a ready supply of trained labor for corporations.

“At worst, it is a grand deception, with the poorest and weakest as its first victims,” Kowal said. “The governor promises opportunity for the poorest, but offers a budget allocation system that will reward SUNY campuses who admit only those students who are the most likely to succeed and then be employed at high salaries.”

Kowal said that Cuomo’s student debt plan—which would forgive two years of student loans for graduates starting in 2015 if they live in New York and make $50,000 or less—won’t make a dent in the state’s student debt crisis. It provides no relief to millions of New Yorkers carrying student debt and could force students into lower-paying jobs to qualify.

UUP’s proposed “SUNY Student Loan Refinancing Program” is a long-term solution to the debt crisis. It would be open to all SUNY graduates with state or federal student loans incurred as of Jan. 1, 2008. They must earn an associate or bachelor’s degree from a state-operated SUNY school and wait a year after graduating to take part in the program.

“Don’t try to tell the people of New York that you care about the working class and the poor when you offer a student debt solution that will result in no relief—absolutely no relief—to the 2 million New Yorkers carrying over $73 billion in debt,” Kowal said.

NYSUT in solidarity

NYSUT President Karen Magee, who spoke at the DA along with NYSUT Executive VP Andrew Pallotta, echoed Kowal’s criticism. The time is now to stand together and stand strong against the governor and his attack on public education, she said.

“I’m outraged that the governor considers higher education as a budgetary whipping boy,” she said. “And he has the audacity to pit college against college. To what end, governor? To what end?”

Pallotta asked delegates to use the NYSUT Member Action Center and use the web portal to send emails and electronic letters to state officials advocating for NYSUT initiatives. Delegates can also sign up for NYSUT email blasts by texting 38470.

"When you're in a war, you need allies, and do we ever have allies in UUP," he said.

In other action

Delegates voted to shorten the DA by a day due to an impending snowstorm that was expected to dump more than two feet of snow in New York City and on Long Island, and a foot of snow or more in the Capital Region. Two plenary sessions were held on Sunday to make up for the schedule change.

Delegates also elected Arty Shertzer of the Stony Brook Chapter as statewide membership development officer; he defeated Albany Chapter delegate Tom Hoey, 108-94. Hoey was later elected to the statewide Executive Board, filling the vacancy left by Shertzer.

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