January 28, 2019

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Kowal: SUNY funding crisis poses dire threat

uupdate 1-28-19

CLICK HERE to read UUP's Jan. 28 testimony to joint legislative hearing on higher education

With the 2019-20 Executive Budget proposing flat funding for SUNY’s state-operated campuses and eliminating the entire subsidy for SUNY’s hospitals, New York’s largest public higher education system cannot adequately function without a rescue plan.

“A number of campuses have cut—or are strongly considering cutting or eliminating—necessary programs and services to close widening budget gaps,” UUP President Fred Kowal, above, right, testified Jan. 28 to a joint legislative hearing on higher education, called by the Senate Finance and Higher Education committees, and the Assembly Higher Education and Ways and Means committees.

“SUNY’s state-operated campuses have never recovered from a series of slashing state funding cuts that took place during the Great Recession,” Kowal told lawmakers. “The governor’s proposal is without funding for a state subsidy for SUNY’s hospitals. The hospitals will be hard-pressed to absorb this loss if it becomes part of the final state budget.”

Earlier, SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson testified that she hoped the state could absorb $39 million in debt service that the three hospitals now carry, thereby freeing up that money for the hospitals to use toward their operating expenses. But even that idea would yield slightly more than one-quarter of the $153 million state subsidy that sustained slashing cuts during the Great Recession.

Access useless with no funding

Kowal appeared with NYSUT President Andy Pallotta, above, center, and Barbara Bowen, above, left, president of the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY. Both echoed Kowal’s urgent call for action, with Bowen noting that the state’s commendable push for access to public higher education is useless if there is no money to fund the faculty and programs that students need.

With a Democratic majority in the Legislature, several high-profile legislative priorities that languished for years because the Republican-dominated Senate would not act on them have quickly passed both houses in just the first weeks of the session. That provides some glimmer of hope for UUP as the union gears up to advocate for SUNY in the coming weeks of the session.

But for now, Kowal could only issue a warning to the Legislature in the face of a dire funding emergency for SUNY. “The situation will only become worse as cash-squeezed campuses consolidate and/or cut courses to close burgeoning budget deficits,” Kowal told lawmakers in his testimony. “Hiring more full-time, tenure-track faculty—a necessity at every SUNY campus—has become nearly impossible.”

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