SUNY/CUNY Capital Plan:
What’s the big secret?

From the NYS Assembly • Sheldon Silver, Speaker
Ron Canestrari • Chair, Higher Education Committee

"For the second year in a row, the Pataki administration is being less than forthcoming in providing details of construction projects throughout the State University of New York system. That deprives the public of their right to know how their tax dollars are being spent."

- Editorial, The Times Union, Albany

"We are talking about billions of dollars here and I don’t feel it is in the best interest for the Legislature to start issuing blank checks without the details on how this money is going to be utilized. The governor has been reluctant to share his plans for this funding and once again he is putting SUNY and CUNY in a dangerous position where they will not be able to proceed with essential capital projects."

- Assemblyman Ronald Canestrari, Chair, Assembly Higher Education Committee

"With SUNY playing such an important role in New York’s economic development, the state’s highest priority for capital funds should be to ensure that the SUNY state operating campuses have the resources necessary to carry out their missions of providing high quality, accessible, affordable higher education to all of our state citizens."

- John Marino, Vice President, United University Professors

"This is a smart move on the part of the Assembly for putting a foot down and demanding SUNY to provide adequate information about where that money is going to go and why. Funding should … be given with substantial evidence."

- Editorial, The Oswegonian, SUNY Oswego student newspaper, Oswego
"It is imperative that New York provide significant capital funding to SUNY and CUNY for new classrooms and facilities that are up to date with today’s technology so that our graduating students have the technological skills and knowledge to be competitive in today’s job market. NYSUT strongly believes that a capital plan for SUNY and CUNY’s four year institutions must be put in place now."

- Christopher Black, NYS United Teachers Legislative Representative

"Too many New York students are learning in dilapidated classrooms with leaky roofs or broken furniture or equipment that is 20 years behind the times. The learning environment deeply impacts the quality of a student’s educational experience.

- Miriam Kramer, Higher Education Project Coordinator, New York Public Interest Research Group
Governor continues to withhold information regarding construction projects

Every year the Assembly fights to prevent the governor’s cuts to New York’s colleges and universities. He has now found another way to undermine education in this state: by refusing to come up with a comprehensive capital plan for the State University of New York and the City University of New York.

As a result, important construction projects have been put on hold, leaving health and safety hazards uncorrected, eliminating valuable jobs, and reducing the quality of education SUNY and CUNY schools provide.

The Assembly – which has strongly supported SUNY and CUNY over the years – would have fully funded the school systems this year, but refused to act irresponsibly by blindly spending billions of taxpayer dollars.

The governor’s budget included new capital appropriations of $2.5 billion for SUNY and $1.1 billion for CUNY. During budget negotiations, the Assembly repeatedly requested the necessary information to properly analyze the proposal. Unfortunately, the governor refused to provide that information, resulting in a deferral of significant portions of the governor’s plan.

So many questions, so few answers

In 1998, five-year capital plans with itemized expenses were developed for the SUNY and CUNY systems. However, in a departure from past practice, the governor’s recent proposal establishes no timeframe for a new plan and does not list specifically what projects will receive funding and how much they will get. It is clearly an attempt to restrict legislative oversight of the plan and turn the proposal into a $3.6 billion "blank check" for the governor to use any way he wants.

Many questions remain regarding the governor’s proposal that must be answered before the Assembly can approve the plan: What projects will be funded in the SUNY/CUNY capital plans? How much will they cost? When will they be funded? How many years will the capital plan cover? Does the delay in approval of the plan change the cost? Is the proposal large enough to meet the needs of SUNY and CUNY?

Problems linger as governor stalls

Nearly 85 percent of SUNY’s approximately 3,000 buildings are at least 20 years old and need renovation, rehabilitation and repair. The supposed focus of the proposed SUNY capital plan was for critical maintenance on campuses in the system. Again, due to the structure of the governor’s proposal, it is impossible to determine the specific projects that would be funded. As the months drag on, the health and safety problems at these schools are likely to get worse.

The lack of a viable capital plan has caused other problems as well. Valuable construction jobs were lost as projects came to a standstill. If the governor had done the capital plan right the first time, many communities badly in need of jobs could have put people to work.

The Assembly Majority demands accountability

Recently, the Assembly Majority held public hearings on the matter in an effort to bring this problem to the taxpayers’ attention and to force the governor to release the details of his SUNY/CUNY capital plan. New York’s students deserve to receive an affordable, quality education in safe and up-to-date buildings.

New York State Assembly
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