Fredonia’s Hefner shares legislative priorities

Interim President Dr. Dennis Hefner, center, provided the Fredonia College Council with his top legislative requests for SUNY Fredonia and a summary of key components of Governor Cuomo’s 2020-21 budget, during a meeting held before the coronavirus crisis hit. Pictured from left to right are Frank Pagano, council chairman, Hefner, and Dr. Kevin Kearns, interim provost. OBSERVER Photo by Mary Heyl

During the most recent meeting of the College Council, which occurred before the college was moved online for the year, Interim President Dennis Hefner shared an update on the impact of the state budget on SUNY Fredonia. “We have flat operating dollars — no change from last year — which means that the governor did not put in any money to help with the collective bargaining increases that were negotiated by the governor’s offices,” he explained. “We will be continuing increases next year, so that represents a cut for us.”

Hefner noted a positive change to the state budget: Gov. Cuomo approved a predictable tuition plan extension through the 2024-25 school year.

“This means that the SUNY board has been given prior approval to increase tuition annually up to a cap of $200 a year,” he explained. “If the SUNY board desires a higher increase, it likely will require legislative approval to do so.”

In addition to supporting the tuition plan extension, Hefner is lobbying state legislators to support SUNY’s request for $25 million in state operating dollars to begin closing the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) gap.

“At the SUNY level, the TAP gap is more than $70 million,” he explained. “That’s increases in TAP that the state has approved but not funded. About a third of the TAP program in this state at the moment is not funded, and as a result, SUNY has been taking it upon themselves to fund that.”

Last year, Fredonia devoted $2.1 million to underwrite the TAP. “We could use those monies for other things to help with the structural deficit,” Hefner noted. “We are hopeful that the legislature will support that. I will say that the conversations I’ve had in Albany, so far, are very positive about this as a possibility.”

The third item that Hefner is lobbying for is the restoration of the funding for community colleges, which was cut by 5% in the new budget.

While council members were hopeful that the state would provide money to close the TAP gap, many were disappointed with the overall state budget as it impacts SUNY Fredonia. Council member Steve Keefe asked Hefner, “The state budget is formulated in such a way to put you in the negative direction, right? The state negotiated the contracts but don’t fund the negotiations. They approve the TAP, but they don’t fund the TAP. Everything seems like it’s got gravity going against it. Am I misreading this?”

Hefner replied, “You are reading it correctly. We are definitely on the slippery slope with this one.”

He noted that the collective bargaining increases will cost the campus $1.3 million. If the state does not provide $1 million in retroactive funds promised for the UUP contract that was not in the governor’s budget, Fredonia will absorb this cost, too.

“This is not a great budget,” Hefner concluded. “We expected it wasn’t going to be a great budget when the governor announced that Medicaid was more than $6 billion out of whack. When you figure all of the SUNY state-operated campuses receive a total of about $800 million from the state, it’s our $800 million versus a $6 billion problem.”

The College Council meets four times per academic year, and the next and final meeting of 2019-2020 is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, May 6.


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