Each year, we should be making headway for New York’s struggling college students. We should be addressing the ever-increasing costs of higher education and adopting measures that ensure current and prospective students have the opportunity to earn a college degree without being burdened with debt come graduation day. Instead, we are seeing actions that will do the opposite.
A few weeks ago, Governor Cuomo vetoed critical legislation that would have required the state to meet its funding obligations to both the State University of New York (SUNY) and the City University of New York (CUNY). When the legislature passed incremental tuition increases at SUNY and CUNY for five years in 2011, the state committed to increase funding to cover increases in the system’s maintenance costs such as utility expenses and building rentals. The bill vetoed by Governor Cuomo would have statutorily enforced this commitment, as it currently is not being met.
My colleagues and I passed this legislation overwhelmingly as we knew it was critical to ensure recent SUNY and CUNY tuition increases went to improving schools and educational programs, not simply to cover maintenance costs. This bill would also have helped the struggling SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn.
As if this did not cause enough pain to the education systems, the governor, shortly after, announced he was going to circumvent the legislature and use an executive order to raise the minimum wage for 28,000 state university workers to $15 per hour.
With no debate, vote or even review of this matter, state legislators and the public are once again left with lots of questions that need to be answered if we are going to provide affordable, quality education to our SUNY and CUNY students. The cost and impact of this unilateral decision will inevitably add to the overwhelming debt students are already dealing with.
Denying these education systems the necessary funds to keep up with basic rising maintenance and utility costs, while simultaneously telling them they need to increase wages for 28,000 workers, is unfair and unreasonable, and will undoubtedly lead to additional tuition increases for students who are already struggling with insurmountable debt.
The discussion for wage increases can certainly be had, but taking executive action and denying legislators the ability to debate and discuss how it will be financed is irresponsible. The governor has said the funding will be allocated from SUNY’s budget. But how can we expect to have the amount we need to cover the cost responsibly if, after five years of tuition increases, schools can’t even keep up with maintenance costs?
The proposal leaves more questions than answers. A proper debate, discussion and vote in the legislature need to be had to prevent the unintended consequence of further burdening tuition-paying students.
Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis represents the 64th A.D.