In keeping with a pledge to keep our members informed and up to date on the work we undertake on your behalf, I wanted to share some information with you. On Wednesday, Governor Cuomo gave his annual State of the State which I attended along with our partners in other unions. The day was a sprint that began with our colleagues in labor at the AFL-CIO, included meetings and receptions by Comptroller DiNapoli, Speaker Carl Heastie and Majority Leader Andrew Stewart-Cousins.
It is evident that the outreach and advocacy that you and I have undertaken in the last year is working. Legislative leaders remembered your meetings, mentioned our efforts and spoke positively of the direction we want to take SUNY.
The Governor’s speech was long on goals and short on specifics, and unfortunately, even shorter on the role of higher education. There were a few notable proposals we will be looking for further information on when the Governor delivers the Executive Budget in a couple weeks.
First, UUP supports expanding accessibility to higher education and we acknowledge the need to boost enrollment at many of our campuses. But the Governor’s expansion of the Excelsior Program without correcting the flaws we have all identified is not a positive step for SUNY without the critical funding necessary to support these students and our academic mission. Further, I have real concerns about committing more campus resources without proper support from the state for those at higher income levels. We await the details on the Governor’s proposal.
Secondly, he proposed the creation of a Center of Cannabis and Hemp within SUNY. As many of you know we have existing research programs at a number of our campuses, so we will monitor where this program will be housed and what funding will be made available to existing programs.
Additionally, the Governor made mention of “investing in Opportunity Programs”. Historically the Governor’s budget team has used EOP and opportunity programs as leverage in the budget process, cutting them knowing full well the Legislature will reinstate the funding. If the Governor doesn’t propose cuts, there is hope we can make real gains in the opporunity programs this budget year.
Of great concern was the lack of any mention of health care and the challenges that face the SUNY hospitals. We continue to advocate strongly for a full restoration of the SUNY hospital subsidy and the development of a plan for their long term financial security.
And finally, UUP supports the proposed Equal Rights Amendment and the Environmental Bond Act that is included in the Governor’s initiatives. UUP has been championing the need to address the global climate crisis. We will push for SUNY to be a leader in the solutions for our environment and we will seek out funding within the bond act that can help foster that goal. There may also be opportunities for SUNY to utilize for funding of programs should the bond act pass. Again, we await the details.
We will be diligent and resolute in our advocacy for each and every campus in the system and UUP will continue to push the Chancellor, and this administration to re-imagine what SUNY can be.
Fred Kowal, UUP President