October 21, 2005

Trustees Talk Money

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A new Board of Trustees committee focusing on the University’s relations with federal, state and local government held its first meeting yesterday afternoon at the Statler Hotel.

The 18-person Committee on Government Relations, many of whose members have ties to federal and state officials, will be crucial in securing and increasing government funding for Cornell.

“Look at the percentage of Cornell’s total budget that comes from the state and federal governments. It’s an important area for the welfare of the University,” said Stephen Johnson, interim vice president for government and committee relations.

Chairman Andrew Tisch ’71 explained that a priority of the committee is to “make sure Cornell [is] getting a fair share of government money. Because of that, [we need to] make sure our voices are heard.”

Previously, the Land Grant Committee juggled both government relations and academic affairs issues. The Board of Trustees, deciding these two areas merited more attention, voted to dissolve the committee and hand over its duties to the newly formed Committee on Government Relations and to the Committee on Academic Affairs.

Besides Tisch, the leadership of the new committee includes vice-chair Elizabeth Moore ’75, who served as counsel to the New York State governor; and vice-chair Richard Schwartz ’60, who chairs the New York State Council on the Arts and spends time with both the Assembly and Senate of New York.

After members introduced themselves, the University’s appointed state and federal reports gave overviews of the budget situations in Albany and Washington.

Charles Kruzansky, associate director of government relations and the committee’s state relations report, said that Gov. George Pataki (R) and his staff are now composing the budget for 2006 to 2007 and will propose their budget in January.

Each year’s budget builds upon the budget of the previous year, and “the governor … usually doesn’t play around with what’s already in the budget,” Kruzansky said.

“The last budget year was an interesting year – [a] relatively good year,” he added.

He told The Sun that although George Pataki has a history of attempting to reduce student aid, Cornell and other institutions have united in lobbying the governor to maintain current funding levels for the Tuition Assistance Program and the Higher Education Opportunity program, among others.

For the 2006 to 2007 year, Cornell is hoping to secure $12 million for its Energy Recovery Linac project and $100 million for a new Animal Health Diagnostic Center. In addition, the University will lobby to increase funding for items already on the budget, such as SUNY and Cornell statutory college operations, the biggest chunk of Cornell’s state aid.

After the elections in November 2006, however, “we will have a new government,” Kruzansky said. “That will change a lot of things in Albany.”

Johnson, the federal relations report, presented a far less rosy outlook.

According to him, Congress is proposing federal cuts to offset money poured into disaster recovery for Hurricane Katrina, which could total $200 billion, and into the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The cuts could come out of mandatory spending programs, which include student financial aid, or trim two to five percent off federal appropriations, which fund agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

“We knew at this point it would be a lean year … [we] didn’t know how lean,” he said.

Another concern is the Higher Education Act (HEA), which has come up for reauthorization. Cornell students currently receive about $5.5 million in Pell Grants, $4 million in Federal Work Study, $2.2 million in other grants and $9 million in Perkins Loans under the HEA.

The House and Senate have both proposed cutting the HEA’s student aid programs by over $15 billion to help reduce the deficit. Under the Senate bill, however, only $7 billion would go towards reducing the deficit directly; the other $9 billion would go back into student aid programs, which would also help those affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Johnson said his main objective is to “go after and support the budget” of various research funding sources such as the NIH and NSF.

“My job is to increase the size of the pie, and the professor’s job is to write a peer review grant and get a piece of the pie,” he said.

His statement highlights an important distinction between Cornell’s state and federal funding. At the state level, the University lobbies George Pataki to procure earmarked funding for projects specific to Cornell. At the federal level, Cornell competes with other institutions on a peer review basis for funding allocated to types of projects, such as research into high energy density plasma.

Committee members expressed interest in learning more about Cornell’s rationale for pursuing non-earmarked funds and the advantages of pursuing earmarked versus nonearmarked funds.

Tisch said a more thorough review of Cornell’s current strategy could be added to the agenda for the next meeting in January.

The new committee will also work closely with the Community Communications Committee on issues relating to Ithaca and Tompkins County.

Archived article by Xiaowei Cathy Tang
Sun Senior Editor