STATE STALLS ON BUDGET, GIULIANI WANTS CUTS AND CONDITION

By Clarion staff

 

CLARION

MAY 2001

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In early May, Mayor Giuliani proposed a budget that would cut city support for City University by $7.2 million. The mayor also wants to impose new conditions on the aid, requiring privatization of remedial education for 1,000 students and the hiring of an outside contractor “to independently review the testing process.”

Meanwhile in Albany, state budget talks were at a standstill, with a final deal not expected until August.

City funding goes principally to CUNY’s community colleges, and the mayor’s cuts “would be a devastating blow,” said Hannalyn Wilkens, chair of the Communication Skills Department at LaGuardia Community College. “We’ve already been cut to the bone. Giuliani’s budget is putting the very mission of the community colleges at risk.” While scaling back community college support, the mayor’s budget calls for doubling enrollment in CUNY’s new Honors College program, an expansion to be paid for by cuts in central administration.

As for the proposal to contract out 1,000 remediation slots, Wilkens said, “Who says private is better? Why should public funds be spent for private gain?” Though CUNY’s remedial programs have been disparaged by politicians and the press, independent reports commissioned—and then shelved—by the Board of Trustees found that they have been successful over the past two decades. “This would be one more case where the mayor siphoned off taxpayers’ money to his cronies,” commented Richard Hanley, professor of English at NYC Tech. It is unclear whether this requirement could be carried out: last year CUNY put out an RFP for some privatization of remediation, but found no qualified vendors.

Giuliani’s budget argues that private “review” of CUNY’s testing policies is needed “to ensure that the implementation of higher standards is not diluted by lowering passing scores.” This echoes the political attack on CUNY over its ACT reading test by the mayor and Board of Trustees chair Herman Badillo, which made headlines in March. CUNY has already announced that it will hire the RAND corporation to do a review of the ACT.

The PSC is working to restore the funds that Giuliani wants to cut and eliminate these conditions. The union is pressing the City Council to boost support for CUNY by an additional $20.6 million, and on May 24 the PSC will testify before the council’s committee on higher education. But in city budget negotiations, the deck is stacked in favor of the mayor: the council can only get its way on those items which it makes a real priority. PSC Secretary Cecelia McCall urged union members in New York City to contact their councilperson immediately. “We need an increase for CUNY, not cuts and conditions,” said McCall.

Meanwhile in Albany, there has been little action one way or another. “It looks like there will be no agreement on the state budget until August, or possibly even September,” said McCall. The problem, she explained, is that the Assembly, State Senate and the Governor are far apart on their estimates of future state revenue, and all sides are playing a waiting game. “There are no talks going on among the three about the revenue figure,” said McCall. “They’re each hoping that new economic data will agree more with their own predictions, and strengthen their hand in those discussions.”

Until there is agreement on just how much money will be available, serious bargaining on how to spend it cannot begin.  As long as the budget is unresolved, the legislature keeps the machinery of government moving with continuing resolutions, maintaining spending at last year’s levels. Chancellor Matthew Goldstein has told the PSC that if the budget is further delayed, CUNY will allocate employment lines on the basis of Governor Pataki’s essentially steady-state budget request. This would allow colleges to plan for the fall, though they could not take advantage of whatever increases they may eventually get above the governor’s proposal.

The Assembly’s proposed budget for CUNY represented some real progress, calling for an increase of more than $40 million above the Governor’s budget proposal. But how much of this will be part of the final deal is very much up in the air. Michael Krasner, chair of the PSC’s Political Action Committee, urged members to call their own State Senator and impress on them that the Assembly budget is just a start on what CUNY needs to do its job. “A flurry of calls to Republican State Senators will make a huge difference,” he said.

“The key senators include Serphin Maltese and Frank Padavan in Queens, Guy Velella in the Bronx, John Marchi on Staten Island and Nicholas Spano in Westchester,“ said Krasner. On Long Island, he cited Michael Balboni, Dean Skelos, Charles Fuschillo, and Carl Marcellino in Nassau County, and Kenneth LaValle in Suffolk. If you live in these districts, said Krasner, a call from you is of special value.

“We’ve made a good start in Albany,” said McCall. “We need to make sure that  this progress is not undone.”