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PSC Seeks CUNY Budget Boost: Union Says Cuomo Tax Cuts Don’t Add Up

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s January 21 budget proposal promises more than $2 billion in tax cuts, reducing corporate taxes across the board and giving an extra tax benefit to Wall Street banks. But the governor’s proposal fails to fund nearly $50 million of CUNY’s mandatory cost increases for heat, electricity, building rentals and more – just one of the many spending cuts that the proposed tax cuts require.

At an Albany budget hearing on February 6, PSC President Barbara Bowen noted that “the State promised to maintain the base budget for CUNY” when five years of tuition hikes were approved in 2011. The governor’s proposed budget, she said, fails to meet that promise.

“If CUNY’s mandatory needs are left unmet and tuition is used to fill the gap, the tuition hikes are no more than a tax – a regressive tax that will force poor and middle-income students to pay an ever-increasing share of the cost of operating CUNY, while corporations and the wealthy receive tax breaks,” Bowen said.

PSC in Action

In their testimony at the hearing, Bowen and PSC First Vice President Steve London asked legislators to add $49.5 million to Cuomo’s proposed CUNY funding, to fully cover CUNY’s mandatory cost increases.

The union’s 2014 budget analysis (available at tinyurl.com/PSC-2014-Budget-Book) argues that “New York has an inequality crisis. CUNY is the solution.”

“People go to CUNY because they want to change their lives,” Bowen testified. “We help them by providing skills – not just job skills or STEM skills, but critical thinking skills, writing skills and skills of reimagination.”

In addition to full funding for CUNY’s unmet mandatory needs, the PSC is calling for a $40 million investment in new full-time faculty lines, and restoration of State base aid for community colleges to its 2008-09 level (an additional $19.5 million). The union is also asking the legislature to reform and expand financial aid (see page 4) and restore funding to opportunity programs like SEEK and College Discovery, and to CUNY’s widely praised ASAP (Accelerated Study in Associate Programs) initiative.

NYSUT’s campaign to reverse years of disinvestment.
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In tandem with the PSC’s push for immediate funding increases, the union’s statewide affiliate, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), has launched a sustained campaign to end the chronic underfunding of CUNY and SUNY, which has seen State support for the two systems cut by nearly $2 billion over the last five years. Dubbed “Keep New York a State of Mind,” NYSUT’s campaign calls for additional State investment to reverse years of disinvestment, with an expansion of opportunity programs and student financial aid. It includes an innovative plan for creation of an endowment to fund new full-time lines in the CUNY and SUNY systems. Print advertisements in support of the campaign began in January, with radio ads slated to start on February 24.

A key fight this year in Albany, which is shaping the entire budget battle, is Mayor Bill de Blasio’s push to allow New York City to raise income taxes on residents’ incomes above $500,000, to fund full-day universal prekindergarten classes and after-school middle school programs in NYC. The PSC Delegate Assembly has endorsed the plan, and has pledged to mobilize union members and CUNY students to support it.

Governor Cuomo has said that New York can pay for statewide universal pre-K without taxing the rich – but observers say his numbers don’t add up. Cuomo’s plan would gradually increase pre-K funding to $500 million five years from now. But State Education Commissioner John King testified that statewide full-day pre-K would cost closer to $1.6 billion a year. The latter amount is more in line with de Blasio’s plan, which puts the annual cost at $340 million for New York City alone.

‘Magic Footnote’

Beyond pre-K, analysts on both the left and the right noted that Cuomo’s budget does not specify how his proposed tax cuts would be paid for. The governor says the cost will be covered by a future budget surplus – the result of unspecified budget cuts in future years. A New York Times report dubbed this “the magic footnote,” citing several budget analysts who took the same view.

“These proposed tax cuts for the big banks and others are based on a plan for austerity budgets long into the future,” said London. “That is not what voters want. New Yorkers want an end to austerity – and PSC members are organizing to demand it.”

To get involved in the PSC’s budget campaign, contact Amanda Magalhaes at amagalhaes@pscmail.org, or (212) 354-1252.