By HENRY GARRIDO
Executive Director, District Council 37, AFSCME, AFL-CIO
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed a state budget that would essentially starve the City University of New York. He proposes to have the state slash nearly $500 million in state funding for CUNY.
Even before the governor spelled out his proposal in early January, CUNY was struggling with reduced state funding and had been forced to drop courses, cut laboratory supplies, take money out of student services, raise tuition and slash spending on adjunct professors.
The governor’s proposal comes on top of his December veto of a bill that would have provided millions of dollars from Albany to help CUNY recover from the deep cuts of the Great Recession that began in 2008.
That bipartisan bill would have also covered retroactive pay for our 10,000 members at CUNY and the faculty. DC 37 members and members of the Professional Staff Congress — which represents the CUNY faculty and other staffers — are working under expired contracts. Our members have gone without a raise for seven years. The PSC’s members haven’t had a pay increase in six years.
Cuomo’s reason for vetoing this bill is now clearer: He wants to shift the financial responsibility for helping to put hundreds of thousands of hardworking New Yorkers on the road to upward mobility with quality higher education, from the state to the city.
Cuomo’s budget proposal also helps shed light on why the governor excluded CUNY employees from the $15 an hour minimum wage plan for State University of New York employees that he announced on Jan. 4.
By excluding CUNY employees from his minimum wage proposal, he was essentially setting the stage for distancing himself from responsibility for addressing the needs of the employees of the city’s higher education system.
As trade unionists, we are of course happy that the SUNY employees will receive a raise. But there is no justification for treating state and city higher education workers differently.
One of the governor’s arguments for shifting costs to the city is that the city financial obligation should be more commensurate with its control of 30 percent of the appointments to the CUNY Board of the Trustees.
By that twisted logic, the breakdown of funding at other institutions, such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, should also be changed. For all we know that step could force the state in certain instances to take on greater financial responsibility. Cuomo’s $485 million cut would reduce the state’s contribution to senior colleges by a third. With that step, the state would renege on its pledge during the city’s 1970s fiscal crisis to support those institutions.
In an era of rising inequality, austerity and staggering student loan debt, I cannot understand why the governor wants to starve CUNY.
Historically, the city’s colleges and universities have provided a pathway to the middle class for immigrants, minorities and children from families with modest incomes.
Cuomo also backed legislation that allowed for $300 in annual tuition hikes over the past five years. The increases will continue for another five years under Cuomo’s proposed budget. The tuition increases make CUNY less affordable for students and force them to take out more costly loans.
The greater debt burden threatens to limit the employment choices of graduates in a tough economy and undermine their financial stability and living standards for years.
Many political observers believe the CUNY budget fight is another instance of the feud between Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
If that’s the case, it’s a pity that the direct victims will be the higher education system’s 278,000 students and its 35,000 unionized and dedicated employees.
Please support our sisters and brothers at CUNY. Sign DC 37’s petition to Tell Governor Cuomo to Properly Fund CUNY!