January 15, 2009

Testimony on the Proposed Budget for Higher Education

Source: NYSUT Legislative Department

Testimony of Alan B. Lubin Executive Vice President New York State United Teachers to the Senate Finance Committee, Carl Kruger, Chair, and Assembly Ways and Means Committee, Herman D. Farrell, Jr., Chair, on the Proposed 2009-10 Executive Budget for Higher Education

January 15, 2009

lubinSenator Kruger, Assemblyman Farrell, honorable members of the Legislature and distinguished staff, I am Alan B. Lubin, Executive Vice President of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT). NYSUT represents more than 600,000 teachers, school-related professionals, academic and professional faculty in higher education, professionals in education, in health care and retirees statewide. My testimony represents the concerns of 68,000 faculty and professional staff who work in colleges and universities across New York state. These include the members of United University Professions at the State University of New York, the Professional Staff Congress of the City University of New York and the faculty and staff at nearly all the SUNY community colleges.

I am joined today by Dr. Phillip Smith, President of United University Professions (UUP), and by Dr. Barbara Bowen, President of Professional Staff Congress (PSC). You will hear from both Dr. Smith and Dr. Bowen concerning the 2009-10 Executive Budget in a few moments.

Thank you for convening these public hearings and for the opportunity to testify today.

First, I want to congratulate you Senator Kruger on your appointment as Chair of the Senate Finance Committee. I also want to congratulate you Senator Stavisky on your appointment as Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee. I know both of you will do outstanding jobs in these new roles for the citizens of this great state.

There is no doubt that the state faces an enormous fiscal challenge. We understand that all New Yorkers must share in the pain to deal with this economic crisis. Our members, however, know that public higher education has more than paid its share not only this year, but over the last two decades during both good and bad economic times. In fact, the New York State Commission on Higher Education stated in its report, "SUNY and CUNY have suffered through a protracted period of under funding that has resulted in perilously lean operating budgets."

We strongly believe that this economic crisis is precisely the time that the state must ensure that our public higher education institutions have the resources they need to accommodate the growing demand for education and training, to enable them to be more marketable in the workforce.

SUNY and CUNY Four-Year Institutions

Historically, when the state has entered into an economic downturn SUNY and CUNY four-year institutions have been among the first areas of the state's budget to be the targets of General Fund cuts. Moreover, as the state's economy has improved and state revenues have rebounded, these same institutions have never been made whole by the state. This historical and disturbing trend was continued in the current 2008-09 State Fiscal Year (SFY) as state General Fund support for SUNY and CUNY four-year institutions was reduced by almost $215 million. These cuts are deeper than the cuts to any other state agency.

In addition to these huge current year state aid cuts to SUNY and CUNY, the 2009-10 Executive Budget reduces state support for SUNY by an additional $69 million for the remainder of the 2008-09 SFY and further reduces state support by another $132 million for the 2009-10 SFY. The total reduction in state support over the next 18 months for SUNY equals $201 million. For CUNY, the Executive Budget reduces General Fund appropriations by $64.8 million for the 2009-10 SFY.

These proposed reductions in General Fund support are offset by proposed tuition increases at SUNY and CUNY. In line with recent resolutions passed by the SUNY and CUNY Boards of Trustees, the Executive has advanced a tuition increase of $620 at SUNY which would be effective in the 2009 spring semester, and an increase of $600 for CUNY which would start in the 2009 fall semester. If adopted by the Legislature, SUNY would generate $241 million in additional revenue and CUNY would generate $110 million. This would increase SUNY's net operating budget by $40 million and increase CUNY's net operating budget by $51 million.

NYSUT would obviously prefer increased state aid than a tuition increase at our four-year public institutions. It is imperative however, that regardless of how you act on the Executive's proposals, the end result must provide at least the same level of increase to SUNY's and CUNY's net operating budgets. Given the magnitude of the General Fund reductions in the 2008-09 SFY – which follow years of inadequate state support – NYSUT strongly urges the Legislature to protect the core mission of these institutions by ensuring student access and by preserving the quality of the academic programs at these institutions.

The state must ensure that students have the faculty to provide instruction and advisement. The Executive Budget provides $75 million from SUNY reserves to preserve full-time faculty and other workforce positions and to preserve student access to undergraduate programs. It is critical that you adopt this funding. We also urge you to protect faculty and student access at CUNY as well.

Unfortunately, at too many campuses we are seeing faculty searches being halted, class sizes increasing and many others being cancelled for next semester. Moreover, due to severe faculty shortages and funding shortfalls, tens of thousands of qualified high school students and community college transfer applicants are being denied admission to four-year public colleges and universities. Approximately 80% of SUNY and CUNY graduates remain in New York after graduation. The state must make a concerted effort to keep students in this state and not to force our youth to leave our state simply to have the opportunity for a college education. Once these students are gone, the vast majority of them do not return to New York. We all lose when this "brain drain" to other states occurs.

SUNY and CUNY Community Colleges

Another area of deep concern to NYSUT is our SUNY and CUNY community colleges. The Executive has proposed a mid-year cut of 10 percent in state aid to these important institutions and proposes to continue this 10 percent reduction for 2009-10. For SUNY's community colleges, this equates to a mid-year cut of $11 million for 2008-09 and a $46 million cut for the 2009-10 academic year. For CUNY, the mid-year cut equates to $4.2 million and the 2009-10 academic year cut equals $17 million.

We recognize the serious nature of the state's fiscal situation, however, these proposed cuts are counter-productive and will only serve to exacerbate our growing economic problems. Community colleges are the gateway to achieving a college degree for hundreds of thousands of citizens in this state. This is especially true in times of economic crisis.

During economic downturns, the demand for the academic services provided by these campuses goes up dramatically as people lose jobs and seek further education and technical skills to become more marketable in a tightening job market. Moreover, we know that our community colleges are often the only choice for many qualified high school graduates who cannot afford private colleges and are shut out of SUNY and CUNY four-year institutions due to their lack of capacity to place them.

President-Elect Obama has publicly recognized the important role that these institutions play in their local communities and has pledged federal support for them. He recently stated, "As we move forward, we cannot neglect our community colleges. These schools produce the backbone of our workforce: nurses and firefighters, computer programmers and farmers. And as our changing economy demands a more skilled workforce, America's community colleges must be at the forefront of our approach to higher education and economic competitiveness. Eighty percent of America's fastest-growing jobs require at least a 2-year degree. You and I know this; businesses know this. Yet for too long, Washington has treated community colleges as a stepchild of the higher education system, instead of essential resources for training and preparing the workers of tomorrow."

NYSUT strongly agrees with President-Elect Obama and urges the Legislature to reject cuts to these campuses especially, the mid-year cuts that are proposed in the Deficit Reduction Plan. Mid-year cuts are especially harmful to these campuses as administrators have already set their budgets and class schedules for the spring semester. In addition, NYSUT strongly believes that enacting mid-year cuts is irresponsible considering that a federal stimulus package will likely be enacted by the middle of February.

Moreover, right now, our state's community colleges are experiencing record enrollments and an increasing number of applications to their campuses. Administrators are facing enormous difficulties in accommodating students' needs with fewer faculty and resources. If these proposed cuts are enacted, the only choice administrators will have to replace these funds is to raise tuition as local governments are certainly in no position to make up the difference. Once again, the state will shift the burden – as it has done so many times in recent years – on the backs of students and working families who simply can't afford it especially in these tough economic times. Our community colleges are already among the most expensive in the nation. Another negative outcome of these cuts is that qualified students may be turned away if campuses are forced to cap enrollment.

NYSUT also strongly opposes the proposed tiered system of cuts for SUNY campuses which are based on enrollment. We believe that our large campuses – which are experiencing the greatest increases in student demand for services – would be unfairly treated under this plan.

The Executive Budget proposals for community colleges squarely put the burden on low-middle income New York families through higher tuition, higher fees and fewer public services. We urge you to reject these cuts.

SUNY Hospitals

NYSUT is also very concerned about the SUNY hospitals. Our SUNY public hospitals provide accessible first-rate medical care to the communities they serve, including critical life-saving health care services not readily available at other hospitals. Moreover, they provide quality graduate medical education and cutting-edge research. The 2009-10 Executive Budget reduces state support to these institutions by $25 million. This cut, along with cuts in Medicaid and Graduate Medical Education funding will severely jeopardize the operations of these hospitals. NYSUT feels strongly that the state must reject cuts to these institutions and provide the funding necessary to ensure that these public hospitals can continue to serve their communities.

SUNY/CUNY Flexibility

I would like to turn now to another area of concern to NYSUT and our Higher education affiliates. The Executive Budget proposes to expand SUNY and CUNY flexibility through various proposals. I want to address those proposals specific to the State University. The Executive budget provides contractual flexibility to SUNY's hospitals by authorizing these institutions to participate in joint ventures and provides them with enhanced contracting authority without any oversight from the Legislature. NYSUT strongly opposes this measure. First, from a public policy standpoint, it is our view that public institutions should be subjected to Legislative oversight. They are public institutions, not private corporations. Over the last tens years we have seen our public university slowly privatized through land lease deals and affiliations with non-public entities. Second, if enacted, this proposal will likely have negative impacts to public employee jobs through the outsourcing of services to non-public entities. Finally, there is no labor protection in the bill to protect public employee jobs.

Overall, we disagree with SUNY's assertion that current laws and regulations are to onerous. In our opinion, there has been no sufficient evidence to back this claim. Moreover, there has been no substantial evidence to suggest that SUNY has been negatively affected financially by the status quo of Legislative oversight.

NYSUT Strongly believes that current oversight is appropriate and justified and should be maintained to protect students, faculty and the state as a whole. We urge you to reject the Executive's proposals.

Higher Education Opportunity Programs

I spoke earlier about maintaining student access. Our higher education opportunity programs play a vital role in ensuring that economically disadvantaged students have access to higher education. These programs are funded below 2007-08 levels and we urge you to restore funding to these programs to those previous levels.

SUNY Office of Diversity and Educational Equity

Opportunity programs help to diversify our higher education institutions. NYSUT is firmly committed to expanding diversity in our schools, colleges and universities. Our organization is dedicated to ending the achievement gap in all sectors of education. We strongly support SUNY's Office of Diversity and Educational Equity which is a newly established program that is helping to end the achievement gap at SUNY. This vitally important program provides those minority students in need with the academic support systems that are necessary to help ensure that these students are fulfilling their potential in becoming college graduates. The program also helps provide diverse faculty at SUNY. NYSUT urges you to restore the cuts to this important program and provide additional funding to ensure that the Office can carry out its mission.

Article VII Proposals

NYSUT is deeply concerned over many of the article VII proposals in the Executive Budget. We strongly oppose the merger of the New York State Theatre Institute (NYSTI) and the Egg. This proposal simply does not make sense and will not save the state any money. NYSTI's educational mission is different from the Egg's. These two institutions have very little, if anything in common. We strongly believe that the merger of these two entities will negatively impact the strong educational mission of NYSTI and we urge you to reject this proposal.

The Executive Budget also proposes many new measures that if enacted, would have a tremendous negative impact on our state employee members and in some instances violate our collective bargaining agreements. Specifically, the proposal to eliminate our members' raises, the five-day payroll lag, the increase in health insurance premiums and Medicare Part B premiums and the creation of a Tier V are extremely objectionable to NYSUT and our affiliates. We will testify on these specific issues at the Workforce Hearing on February 4, 2009.

Funding Solutions

I began my testimony by acknowledging our state's fiscal crisis and continued by asking for your support in providing more state aid to our public higher education institutions. We realize that these requests cannot be met without significant additional state revenue. We understand that this economic crisis requires real solutions and we are acting. NYSUT has been working with the state's congressional delegation and state leaders to secure additional federal aid. Just the other day, Senator Schumer announced he is working on a package of federal aid that would provide our state with an emergency infusion of billions of dollars in additional annual Medicaid funding and $6.2 billion in education block grant funding over the next two years. Moreover, in conjunction with other unions of the AFL-CIO, we have proposed to the Executive a menu of practical solutions. For example, we would like the state to look more closely at using BOCES to share services, bulk purchasing of prescription drugs, closing loopholes to collect additional revenue and a more progressive income tax structure. The progressive income tax proposals that are now being developed by various groups and legislators will provide at least $6 billion in additional revenue to the state.

NYSUT is calling on you, our legislative leaders, to partner with us to pursue constructive revenue solutions to the budget crisis that would spare students and needy New Yorkers from harm. We are committed to constructive solutions and we look forward to working with you in the coming weeks to address our budget deficit. We strongly believe that by working together, we can avoid devastating cuts to public higher education.

Conclusion

Again, thank you for taking the time to hold these important hearings. I look forward to working with you in the coming weeks on these and other important issues. I will now turn the microphone over to Dr. Smith who will be followed by Dr. Bowen.

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