UUP holding rallies on SUNY campuses to close the “Tap Gap” in 2021 budget

Legislative Gazette photos by Lara Morales

State University faculty, staff and students held coordinated rallies on several campuses last week to call on state legislators and the governor to increase funding for the SUNY system in next year’s budget.

Members of the United University Professions — which represents professors on 29 SUNY campuses — held simultaneous “Fund SUNY Now” rallies on the campuses of Buffalo State, New Paltz, and Old Westbury on February 25. UUP members at SUNY Plattsburgh rallied during a snowstorm Feb. 26. SUNY Cortland UUP members are rallying on March 3.

Five other campuses handed out information and urged workers and students to tell their local state representatives to support SUNY.

Hundreds of people attended the rally on the New Paltz campus.

They demanded that lawmakers stand up for SUNY by increasing direct state funding to the University in the 2020-2021 state budget. UUP President Fred Kowal also called on legislators to create new revenue streams for SUNY, such as enacting an enhanced Millionaires’ Tax, and a pied-a-terre tax.

“We have reached a point where this can’t continue,” said UUP President Frederick E. Kowal, Ph.D., who spoke at the Buffalo State rally. “It is time for the state to stop its decade-long disinvestment in SUNY.”

Many SUNY campuses — including Buffalo State, New Paltz, Plattsburgh, the University at Albany and SUNY Fredonia — are financially struggling and desperately trying to close budget shortfalls.

The union says that the budget shortfalls are due in part to the widening TAP Gap — the difference between full SUNY tuition and the amount campuses are allowed to charge TAP-eligible students — which campuses must cover.

“It is the state’s obligation to fairly fund SUNY, and we believe it is time for the state to make a real commitment to and a real investment our university system,” UUP’s statewide Vice President for Professionals, Tom Tucker, said at the New Paltz rally.

The New Paltz rally was organized to coincide with the campus’s Black Lives Matter at School Week, and speakers emphasized the relationship that a funding shortfall has on disadvantged students, students of color, and female students.

Kiersten Greene, an associate professor, academic delegate and the membership Development Officer for the union’s New Paltz chapter said, “My point up here today is not to share my own sob story rather than to provide a point that when one of us suffers, we all suffer. This is a class issue, it is a race issue, and it is a gender issue.

“SUNY serves an incredibly diverse multicultural, multilingual, multi-gendered New York, and when funding for SUNY suffers it impacts our black and brown, women, queer, and working-class students suffer the most,” Greene said. “Enough is enough.”

UUP members are urging fellow faculty, staff and students to demand that state legislators and the governor close the TAP Gap, a term for the growing difference between the TAP funding for students and tuition costs.

Taijah Pink, the Student Association President at SUNY New Paltz said, “I got involved today because as a black student from a low-income family, this means a lot to me. Wanting to get a higher education is the first step for me really improving my life and it’s the first step for improving a lot of low-income lives and black and poor people. I’ve been fortunate enough to get access to higher education.”

According to the UUP, closing the TAP Gap could support the salaries of 800 to 1,000 new full-time faculty across the system. This would benefit students by increasing the number of course offerings, as well as adding additional counseling, tutoring and advising.

The union argues that the governor’s proposed 2020-21 Executive Budget is an essentially flat budget that does nothing to reverse years of “disinvestment” in the State University system after a series of Recession-era funding cuts to SUNY a decade ago.

Those reductions, combined with a series of flat budgets for SUNY, have resulted in a $660 million drop in direct state aid to SUNY campuses from the 2007-2008 budget year to the current budget year.

For example, according to UUP, Buffalo State is facing a $3.4 million budget shortfall, the exact amount of the campus’ annual TAP Gap loss. SUNY Plattsburgh and SUNY New Paltz are struggling with budget deficits of $3 million and $2.9 million, respectively. They pay $2.1 million and $2.9 million respectively, to cover the TAP Gap.

The TAP Gap is expected to be around $75 million in 2020-21. UUP is calling for the addition of $75 million in the 2020-2021 state budget to close the gap for SUNY’s state-operated campuses.

UUP estimates that an enhanced Millionaires’ Tax could generate an additional $2 billion in new state revenue. A pied-a-terre tax — which would tax luxury residential property not used by their owners as primary residences — would bring in an extra $560 million in new state funding.

The union is also pushing for the restoration of an $87 million state subsidy for SUNY’s public teaching hospitals in Brooklyn, Stony Brook and Syracuse.

“We are not a ‘quasi-public’ higher education system,'” Kowal said. “We are the State University of New York — a public higher education system. “The state has an obligation to provide necessary funding to allow our campuses and our hospitals to offer quality, affordable, accessible education and world-class health care to all. And we certainly have the resources to pay for it through a much more progressive and fair tax system.”