Assemblyman Tom Alfano kicked off his state budget "truth squad," highlighting different aspects of the state budget that will impact families throughout his district. In a week where college students were home for the holiday recess, Alfano pointed to the SUNY and CUNY tuition increases and library cuts in the recently enacted budget. Alfano noted that college students will pay more in college tuition he calls a tax, lose scholarship funding and colleges are taking serious measures.
Alfano, a fierce critic of the budget, voted 'no' on the document, saying it hurts people during one of the worst economic recessions Long Island has seen in decades. "When you see where they decided to cut, you can't help but ask yourself what were these guys thinking?" he said. "Do they even care about families, young people and seniors?
"SUNY and CUNY students were victims of this budget and they never knew they were a target," Alfano said. "A SUNY student will see their tuition increase $310 and a CUNY student will see a $600 increase. Quite frankly, this is a college tax on students because the money never sees the light of day on a campus. That 300 or 600 dollars could be used for books or lab fees for an entire semester. Too many young people are just barely affording college as it is. I know college students that work two jobs, go to school and are barely making it. This tuition tax is a betrayal to them plain and simple. I've had enough of politicians saying we support you at a rally and then vote 'yes' to cuts in Albany when they think nobody is watching. Well, the people are watching.
"Take a look at Stony Brook University, which is a school where countless students from our community go to school. They had to make serious cuts that directly impact programs. Right now, the departments of medicine, neurology, radiology and surgery don't have department chairs. The clinical programs have had to make drastic decisions by not having sufficient staff in the geriatrics, neurosciences, trauma, cancer and heart areas. In these cases, patient care is not addressed. Stony Brook also had to reduce student recruiting in the graduate school by 20 percent. When you cut programs like that, it means students have to stay in college longer to get the required courses and it costs even more money to young people and their parents. It doesn't make any sense. It's hurtful and will have consequences down the line. SUNY Albany, Binghamton, Purchase, Cortland, Potsdam, Oswego, Morrisville, Plattsburgh and Farmingdale can tell similar stories along with all the other SUNY campuses."
Assemblyman Alfano also took aim at the $3.9 million Volunteer Firefighter and Ambulance Worker scholarship program that was eliminated in the budget. "This cut is a total outrage. Volunteer firefighters put their lives on the line for our communities. They are always there for all of us. They save lives, protect homes and never ask for anything in return. Senators and Assemblymembers who voted to cut this scholarship should be ashamed," Alfano said.
"The SUNY and CUNY tuition increase is a complete betrayal of our young people. The increase in tuition doesn't even go to the schools for repairs, programming, infrastructure or educational programs. The dirty secret of this increase is that 80 percent of the money is put into the state general fund. In this economy where we are doing all we can to encourage our young people to go to college, this budget pulls the rug out from under them. SUNY and CUNY were created for middle class families. These schools are among the best in the nation and an uncaring state leadership from New York City saw fit to try to take it away from young people," Alfano said.
The SUNY and CUNY tuition "taxes" are not the only cuts to be seen by college students. A $3.9 million scholarship for volunteer firefighters and ambulance service workers was slashed. The cuts to SUNY were on top of an over $200 million cut by Governor Paterson just 6 months ago.
Libraries are hit in the state budget, taking an over $8.3 million cut. The cut is particularly hard, according to Alfano, as many residents are using libraries now more than ever for computer services, books, research, workshops and programs.
"Libraries today are a critical resource to people who have lost a job, are in college or recreational use. Every day you can see people printing résumés, looking at newspapers for jobs or attending workshops to sharpen or learn a new skill. The library is the backbone of a community. It's there for everyone. What does this budget do? It cuts libraries. Many of the people searching for a job now weren't a part of the computer generation. They are just beginning to learn these skills and many don't have a computer."
In the New York State Senate, a fierce fight to put funding back in the budget for SUNY, CUNY and libraries was proposed by Senators Dean Skelos, Kemp Hannon, Chuck Fuschillo and Carl Marcellino in Nassau County. Assemblymembers Tom Alfano, Tom McKevitt, Rob Walker, Dave McDonough, Joe Saladino and Bob Barra supported the effort. The funding would have made SUNY, CUNY and libraries whole in the budget. Unfortunately, the two budget amendments that replaced the funding were defeated by one vote in the State Senate. Two Long Island senators voted against the budget amendment and then voted for the cuts.
"There is no greater investment a parent can make than to ensure a college education for their children," Senator Skelos said, adding, "If SUNY does not get to keep revenues generated from the tuition increases, they will be forced to reduce services for students, limit enrollment, increase class sizes and make staff and faculty reductions. This amendment ensures that taxpayer dollars will go to the classrooms where they belong, rather than being stolen from our families in order to help balance the general fund."
The library portion of the budget is slashed almost 10 percent in the state budget, bringing state support of libraries down $91.08 million. "When you think of our share of library funding just in our immediate area of Franklin Square, Valley Stream, Floral Park, Elmont, New Hyde Park, West Hempstead and Malverne libraries and then think of the entire state budget line for libraries you see that these cuts aren't little ones. They are devastating to our entire library system," Assemblyman Alfano said.