Higher education funding has been a political food fight for years. State funding has remained largely flat while rising student tuition covers an increasing percentage of budgets for CUNY and SUNY — two-thirds of SUNY’s operating costs, for example. The state did increase funding in the current budget, and started its Excelsior free-tuition program for some students, and authorized another rational tuition increase plan.
What’s missing is a guarantee state funding will increase as expenses and inflation do. Now, the state commits only to not reduce spending each year. A bill on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk would change the “maintenance of effort” clause to mean that the state will cover, for example, increased energy costs, a new collective bargaining agreement or any inflation-related increase. CUNY says this would have meant an additional $157 million this year for the system’s senior colleges alone.
Keeping a college education affordable for students and families is critical. Cuomo should sign the legislation.
One bill Cuomo just approved strengthens New York’s Freedom of Information Law, which allows any person to request public records from government agencies. The bill corrects a flaw in the law that allowed judges to decide whether to award attorneys’ fees to a plaintiff whose public records request was wrongly denied. The uncertainty of being reimbursed has had a chilling effect on transparency.
The fix requires judges to award such fees if the plaintiff “has substantially prevailed” and there was “no reasonable basis” for an agency to deny a records request. If government wrongly tries to hide information, it must pay your legal costs for seeking it. We share Cuomo’s frustration that the State Legislature still is exempt from this legislation but applaud his decision to sign the bill.
Now, all levels of government, including agencies under Cuomo’s direction, must honor the spirit of the law and promptly provide information when it’s properly requested and subject to FOIL. The point is not to award fees when requests are improperly denied, but to deter improper denials and make easy and fast access to information the default response.