February 2, 2010

Governor’s Budget Chops Funding For Higher Education

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Constrained by a $13.7 billion budget deficit, the New York state government is looking to save money by cutting funding for several programs and departments at the University, according to the 2010-2011 executive budget sent by the governor to the state legislature for approval. The legislature will have until April 1 to pass the proposed budget.

Though the proposed cuts are serious, Charlie Kruzansky, senior director of government relations, says that things could have been much worse. While the governor’s new budget proposes cuts by as much as 20 percent for several other areas that the state appropriates money toward, the proposal only calls for a 10-percent reduction across higher education.

“The government has been good to higher education,” Kruzansky said. “It’s not getting cut as much as other things.”

Heavily affected by the proposed budget are the contract colleges, which draw money from the state’s SUNY fund. According to Zoe Nelson, legislative assistant in Cornell’s Office of State Government Relations, these colleges could lose a combined seven percent of the state funds that were allocated last fiscal year if the legislature approves the budget. The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences stands to lose the most, as 50 percent of the money allocated to Cornell from the SUNY fund is appropriated to CALS.

“We were surprised at the depth of the proposed cuts, particularly because the governor has given strong support to SUNY in the past,” said Ron Seeber, the CALS lobbyist in Albany. “You can’t pull this much money out of the budget without having an impact on students,” he said.

In addition to general cuts from the SUNY budget, CALS also lost major funding for two programs: the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Integrated Pest Management program.

“We have made very significant contributions to the world of agriculture,” said Dr. Tom Burr, director of the AES. The AES has most notably conducted research on crop output and food safety and developed apple and vegetable crops. Burke also gave a good deal of credit to the station’s role in creating a thriving wine industry in upstate New York.

“The ability for these wineries to make world class wine comes through research, and this research has been –– by and large –– done here,” he noted.

Burke says the program relies on government money to pay their employees’ salaries, and believed that they would need to look into alternative sources of funding, such as certain federal grants, if the budget passes.

“We’re certainly not giving up on this,” he stated.

In contrast to the AES, the IPM program––which looks for ways to control pest infestations––would likely be forced to close if the proposed budget passed the legislature, according to Dr. Don Rutz, entomology and director of the program. The program currently pays 24 employees with state funded money.

“There’s a tremendous amount of disappointment here, but there’s a lot of hope that the program will be refunded,” he said. He added that many people who benefit from the program, including fruit growers, golf courses, and dairy farms, have been writing letters to Albany expressing their support for the group and he hoped that this would have an impact on the legislature’s final decision.

The cuts won’t only affect departments and programs, but also individuals seeking student financial aid. The budget could reduce each Tuition Assistance Program award by 75 dollars and has proposed stricter GPA requirements, amounting to a two percent cut in state funded student financial aid from last year. The proposal also demands additional cuts to the Higher Education Opportunity Program, which last December had already been cut by 12.5 percent.

“Everyone’s talking about how higher education is the key to the new economy,” Nelson said. “To cut financial aid for the neediest is a statement. It counteracts what people are talking about.”

According to experts in the field, however, nothing yet is definite and the provisions will be subject to change before the final version of the budget passes the legislature.

“We still have a ways to go in the political process,” Kruzansky stated.

The State Programs office plans to organize transportation for students to a statewide educational lobby day on February 9 in Albany.

Original Author: Juan Forrer