Assembly rejects Cuomo’s CUNY cost shifts, wants 2-year tuition freeze

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Heastie. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
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ALBANY — Democrats who dominate the State Assembly are reversing Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to shift $485 million of state support for CUNY to the New York City budget and would freeze tuition for the next two years, officials from the chamber said.

The counterproposals will be baked into the Assembly's one-house budget resolution, a statement of priorities set to pass next week that will kick off the final round of budget negotiations. Leaders in both the State Senate and the Assembly have been trickling out details of their one-house documents this week; yesterday, Republicans who control the Senate outlined a plan to cut income taxes for middle-class New Yorkers.

“The Assembly Majority has always believed that investing in our children's academic success is the best investment we can make for the future of New York's families and communities,” Assembly speaker Carl Heastie said in a statement. “This year, we strengthen our promise to ensure that an affordable college education is within reach of every student and family in our state.”

Leaders of CUNY at first walked a fine line regarding Cuomo's proposal, with chancellor James Milliken at first refusing to term it a cut and suggesting it was “revenue-neutral” because it presumed New York City would pick up any costs doffed by the state.

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Last week, though, CUNY's top finance official told members of the City Council that losing the money would be “unfathomable” and would force cutbacks in offerings or steep tuition hikes. Members of the union that represents CUNY faculty and student groups are opposing Cuomo's proposal and planning a Thursday evening march on Cuomo's New York City office.

Cuomo initially explained the cost shift by noting New York City has several seats on CUNY's board and saying that as such should contribute more to the operations of its senior colleges — for which the state took financial responsibility during the fiscal crisis of the 1970s.

But facing media pressure, the governor then said the cost shift was part of a joint efficiency finding exercise with city officials and suggested CUNY's administration was bloated. An administration spokesperson last week told NY1, “There is no scenario in which this plan would adversely impact CUNY students, and to suggest otherwise is simply untruthful.”

Democrats in the Assembly would also freeze tuition at public colleges for two years, contrary to a Cuomo proposal — backed by SUNY's trustees — that would give them the flexibility to raise annual tuition by $1,500 over the next five years.

Heastie also continued his support for the Educational Opportunity Program — from which he personally benefited — with an increase of $5.4 million, and proposed to raise the maximum grant under the Tuition Assistance Program by $100.

Here are details of the Assembly proposal: http://bit.ly/1TxHv3D