October 8, 2009
College faces more budget cuts from state
SUNY Cortland braces for another round of cuts as governor chops $90 million from SUNY
Just over a month into the new academic year, State University of New York campus presidents find themselves deciding how to cut their budgets yet again.
Gov. David Paterson wants a budget cut of $90 million for SUNY as part of the 11 percent cut to state operating agencies — $500 million — he announced Tuesday.
He also wants to cut $35.6 million from the Higher Education Services Corp., which includes financial aid programs such as the Tuition Assistance Program, and $5.4 million to the state Education Department.
No jobs are intended to be cut under the order. It will cut travel, postage, purchasing costs and other nonpersonnel costs. But agencies could try to meet their target by offering previously established severance packages with $20,000 bonuses to workers.
Paterson can make cuts in the executive branch without legislative approval, but deeper reductions in programs would still need lawmakers’ support.
The governor is moving to cut spending as the state faces a budget deficit of at least $2.1 billion for the 2009-10 fiscal year.
SUNY was cut the hardest by Paterson, with 18 percent of the total amount. The state prison system was next with $70 million.
“This is going to have a devastating effect,” SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum said Wednesday. “It could mean some students will not be able to go to college and that we might have fewer classes.”
How much SUNY Cortland will have to cut has yet to be determined, he said.
Bitterbaum said that with the economy struggling, public colleges are the best hope as people try to afford college and go to school to change careers.
“At times like this, you really want to invest in public education,” he said. “Our chancellor, Nancy Zimpher, will be talking to campus presidents about these cuts and to state legislators about our value to the state.”
Faced with a massive budget deficit a year ago after Wall Street’s collapse, Paterson hit SUNY hard, cutting its budget by $146 million in three rounds. SUNY Cortland lost $4 million or just under 3 percent of its budget during those cuts.
Paterson also raised tuition for the fall and spring 2009 semesters by $310 for the four-year campuses, then kept 90 percent of the difference for his state operating budget.
That gave SUNY campuses $7.6 million out of the $76 million in additional revenue, where in the past they would have received all of it.
Paterson’s move Tuesday was criticized by the SUNY Student Assembly and United University Professions, the college faculty union.
“Governor Paterson is pulling the rug from right underneath our feet,” said Melissa Mercedes, SUNY Student Assembly president, in an e-mail to news media Wednesday. “During the toughest economic times we’ve seen in decades, he is again pulling support to the state’s most important asset and best return investment.”
Public schools were not affected by Paterson’s cuts. State aid cuts at midyear would be a poor idea politically, said Larry Spring, Cortland superintendent of schools.
Any cuts in aid would wait until Paterson proposes his 2010-11 budget, Spring said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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