NEW YORK — On Aug. 19, Governor David Paterson called the legislature into special session to address the state’s growing fiscal crisis. One of the biggest targets is the higher education system. Students are not taking it lying down.

The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), Student Assembly of the State University of New York (SUNY), and University Student Senate of the City University of New York (CUNY) are jointly urging legislators to reject the cuts. NYPIRG program coordinator Fran Clark called them a “buffet of awful choices.”
The student groups told legislative leaders in a letter, “We submit that the benefits of affordable, accessible, high-quality public higher education far outweigh the costs. Higher education’s power as an economic engine and its potential for workforce development and innovation … represent the state’s best chance to pull quickly out of this economic nosedive.”
Students already took a big hit last April, along with seniors, people with AIDS and millions of others receiving human services. Then, SUNY suffered a whopping $150 million in cuts. Now the governor proposes further cuts of $100 million to SUNY, $50 million to TAP (the Tuition Assistance Program), $51 million to CUNY and 6 percent to all “opportunities programs.” The proposal would even cut funding for the new Veterans Tuition Awards in half.

“When you propose cuts to financial aid you take money out of the pockets of students and their families,” Clark told the World in a phone interview. Most programs to be slashed aim to provide low-income New Yorkers with college access.

Students aren’t the only ones up in arms. “Slashing the CUNY budget is a terrible policy and absolutely the wrong way to address the budget shortfall,” said Barbara Bowen, president of CUNY’s Professional Staff Congress (PSC) representing 22,000 faculty and professional staff.
The PSC and New York City Council Member Charles Barron held a press conference with students at City Hall Aug. 15. Barron was the lone city council member to vote against the recent city budget cutting many human services.
The higher education cuts are among $1 billion in cuts the governor is asking lawmakers to pass this week to stave off the $6.4 billion deficit projected for 2009.

Unions, community groups and some legislators in Albany have proposed a different course: taxing the richest New Yorkers.

Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver’s bill for a new state tax on millionaires passed the Assembly but stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. Now Paterson has even proposed to cap property taxes, which state teachers’ unions say would cripple K-12 public education.

A Paterson advisor, Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, also recommended taxes over cuts. Stiglitz wrote in a letter to the governor published by the New York Sun, “When faced with such an unpleasant choice, economic theory and evidence gives a clear and unambiguous answer: it is economically preferable to raise taxes on those with high incomes than to cut state expenditures.”