It’s that time of the fiscal year again, folks. It’s budget week, New York’s first with Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the driver’s seat. And though he’s fresh off a landslide victory and his subsequent inauguration, Cuomo didn’t forget — in what has become an annual tradition — to put SUNY under the knife.
To close a $10 billion dollar hole in New York’s projected budget of $132.9 billion, Gov. Cuomo laid out a litany of aggressive spending cuts, his proposal slashes spending nearly universally. Some cuts will come from already hefty sectors — New York spends more than any other state per pupil in K-12 education and per enrollee in Medicaid, and state employees here enjoy unusually generous salaries, benefits and pensions — but some “gap-closing actions” (as they are truthily called in the Executive Budget Briefing Book) should prove to be a brutal burden in the coming year.
New York City homeless shelters will face a $16 million reduction in their state financing. New York’s student loan assistance program will be reworked for $37 million in state austerity measures. Piecemeal spending cuts in early childhood welfare, mental health programs and veterans facilities are stipulated throughout the budget, and though they add up to some marginal savings in the aggregate, these cuts leave small-money programs extremely strapped for cash.
In that same vein, SUNY is now on the verge of becoming one of those small-ticket budgetary items that Gov. Cuomo has a habit of erasing. State funding for SUNY is now down 10 percent compared to last year — and 2010-11 funding was already down about 30 percent from what it was four years ago. SUNY is the largest public higher education system in the United States. It has 64 campuses and about 465,000 students. But the State of New York still spends about $1 billion more on prisons than it does on SUNY.
Cuts are necessary. We know this. This is certainly a difficult time for states across the country, with sharp recession-caused declines in revenue and more enrollees in welfare programs due to job loss, New York is certainly not lacking company in its fiscal misery.
Gov. Cuomo is refreshingly serious about balancing the budget. He has pledged to cease the practice of using budgetary gimmicks as stop gap measures to artificially present sound budgets, an Albany hallmark in years past. His budget, because of its aggressive spending cuts in education and welfare programs, makes him the face of harsh austerity measures that affect millions of New York voters. In many ways, Gov. Cuomo has shown some political courage in a town that isn’t known for it.
But his avowed refusal to raise taxes (or even extend reasonable taxes on the books today) is extremely discouraging. Gov. Cuomo — as part of his smaller government, pro-business shtick — opted not to extend a surcharge on high income earners, which would have generated $2 billion in revenue just in 2011-12. This tax break for millionaires taints his cuts to social services because many of them simply weren’t necessary. Cuts in Medicaid spending? Unavoidable. But cuts in state financing for homeless shelters?
And by continuing to advocate for cost-saving measures by cutting financing for SUNY, Gov. Cuomo is underhandedly leading to a new tax on college students. Thanks to the annual orgy of higher education funding cuts from Albany, SUNY tuition increases are now all but inevitable. A tuition hike is money out of young students’ pockets.
Gov. Cuomo’s budget makes all the wrong people pay. Rather than galvanizing the state to carry us through tough times, it’s letting the wealthy off the hook, putting students up against a wall, and leaving a whole host of disenfranchised New Yorkers on the firing line.