The New York State Senate passed the $229 billion state budget late Tuesday night. The delayed passing of the budget came after Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that she and state lawmakers had at long last reached an agreement – a month later than when a final spending plan was due. Although Gov. Hochul’s executive budget had included a 3% annual tuition increase for in-state SUNY and CUNY students, the New York State Legislature comprised of the New York Assembly and Senate declined the tuition hikes in the final budget. The budget comes after weeks of disagreement and debate between Gov. Hochul and the State Legislature, which caused the longest delay in the budget release in over a decade.
Political science professor Stephen Pampinella explained how the State Legislature rejected Gov. Hochul’s proposed tuition hikes. “Normally an executive budget is introduced by the governor. The legislature then passes their own one house budgets that gives a hint of their own priorities,” he stated. “They did not include the tuition hike and they said very clearly they didn’t want it. They basically refused to include that in the final budget which is passing right now – that will not go through.”
The governor cited decreased enrollment amongst other issues as reasoning behind the tuition hikes. Her executive budget proposed a contentious 6% tuition increase to begin in Fall 2023 at the four university research centers: Albany, Buffalo, Binghamton and Stony Brook. Critics of Gov. Hochul were unhappy with her proposed tuition hikes as she had previously advocated for revitalizing the SUNY system and increasing enrollment in her 2022 State of the State address.
Unlike the tuition hikes, Gov. Hochul and the State Legislature seemed to agree on increased SUNY and CUNY funding. The governor proposed $270 million in additional operating aid for SUNY and CUNY, and the State Legislature’s budgets also added millions in funding for the two university systems. While the State Legislature prevented in-state tuition hikes, a measure was passed in the final budget that would make it possible to increase tuition for out-of-state students enrolled at SUNYs and CUNYs.
“Quite frankly, the governor’s tuition proposal really helped galvanize the support or opposition, but it really drew attention to a very serious need and that is for years we have been stagnant in terms of what we’re doing for SUNY and CUNY,” stated N.Y. Assembly Higher Education Committee Chair Pat Fahy on Spectrum News 1. “We have put in more operating aid – some of the highest in years – because the Senate and Assembly has chosen not to hike tuition.”
As SUNY grapples with COVID-related decreased enrollment and high inflation rates, schools suffer a decrease in quality as the state has stagnated SUNY support. “We should absolutely be at the top. We’re not,” Assembly Chair Fahy said. “We’re not even in the top 25. We’re not in the same category as Chapel Hill, North Carolina, we’re not in the same category as University of Michigan. We’re not in the same category of University of California Berkeley, and we should be. This is New York.”
SUNY New Paltz’s branch of the United University Professions (UUP) – the nation’s largest higher education union – held a protest on Thursday, April 27 outside the Humanities Building while awaiting the state’s final budget. Union members were hard to miss in their sea of bright red UUP shirts as they advocated for a fair contract that establishes compensation rights for academic workers amidst negotiations with New York state. The UUP demands include increased pay and job security for non-tenured professors, improvements in telecommuting for librarians and professionals and increasing compensation for healthcare workers within SUNY hospitals.
The 174-page budget bill for the $229 billion state budget – known in Albany as the “Big Ugly” – includes additional measures that took months of closed-door negotiations for the governor and the State Legislature to agree upon. While the proposed tuition hikes were a big focus for people involved in higher education, other divisive issues like cash bail laws and housing plans were often highlighted in the clashes between the governor and New York state lawmakers.
The budget will make changes to the state’s 2019 cash bail law by giving judges discretion to set cash bail in violent felony and misdemeanor cases. The reform is a hard-fought win for the governor who was accused of being “soft on crime” by Republican opponent Lee Zeldin in a narrow November 2022 gubernatorial race.
Gov. Hochul insisted on the change to the 2019 cash bail law and was supported by police and prosecutors. Progressives and public defenders argue that the change undermines the state’s criminal-justice reforms will lead to more people remaining in jail before being found guilty of a crime.
While Gov. Hochul may have won on the bail reform front, the State Legislature did not grant her ambitious housing plan. The plan was a fundamental measure of the governor’s proposal, in which she would require communities to hit housing growth measures that would lead to 800,000 new homes over the next 10 years in New York state. If a municipality missed its housing target, the state would step in and approve a new housing development to provide housing for areas that need it. Local officials in areas like the Hudson Valley and Long Island argued the governor was overstepping and opposed the measure. In the final budget, Gov. Hochul dropped the plan entirely instead of accepting a compromise she felt would weaken the plan’s success.
Some lawmakers expressed frustration with how much the budget has to do with non-fiscal policies. Since the budget is a governor-driven process, Gov. Hochul can, and has, included proposals that have little to do with money.
Other items in the budget include a minimum wage set to increase by 50 cents per year beginning in 2024 until it is $17 per hour, a bailout for the MTA that will prevent a planned fare hike and include the launching of a pilot program for a free bus route in every borough, a $5.35 cigarette tax (the highest in the nation) and reviving 14 “zombie” charter schools – charters that were awarded to schools that closed or failed to open in the first place.
“I know this budget process has taken a little extra time, but our commitment to the future of New York was driving this,” stated Gov. Hochul.