By Maria Rocha-Buschel
City University of New York students, education advocates and local elected officials rallied on the Baruch Plaza at Lexington Avenue and East 25th Street last Thursday, protesting tuition hikes for CUNY students.
Assemblymember Harvey Epstein argued at the rally that more money should be allocated to the city and state university systems, and also said that bills he has introduced would help provide that funding.
One piece of legislation from Epstein, which is co-sponsored by Assemblymember Dick Gottfried, would impose a 2% sales tax on various luxury items, including vehicles, jewelry and clothing over a certain amount, and the tax would be distributed equally to SUNY and CUNY. Another bill would increase taxes on beer and would direct the revenue generated from the tax to SUNY and CUNY, with Epstein noting that New York currently has one of the lowest beer taxes in the country. The bill would increase the tax to 30 cents per gallon, up from 14.
“[Governor Andrew Cuomo] has basically frozen the operating money four years in a row [for the university systems] with no new operating support, even though we’ve approved contracts, which increase costs,” Epstein said, noting that schools are also struggling because of deficits created by increases in tuition but a lack of increases in awards from the state Tuition Assistance Program for low-income students, known as the TAP gap.
Before 2011, low-income CUNY and SUNY had their tuition covered in full by TAP and schools received enough TAP payments to cover costs, but with tuition increases since 2011, the schools themselves have had to cover the difference between the TAP awards and the actual tuition price for these students.
“Here at Baruch, they’re in the middle of a capital project over at 17 Lexington Avenue,” Epstein said. “They need another $10 million but they’ve already named the building, they’ve already started work. They’re five years into the project and they can’t get any matching money for a building that’s already been named, that’s already underway. It makes no sense.”
The AP reported earlier last week that Epstein and Assemblymember Deborah Glick also testified at a budget hearing last Tuesday and argued that a proposal from Governor Andrew Cuomo that would allow slightly wealthier students to receive the Excelsior Scholarship doesn’t do enough to help students who are struggling financially since the governor is also proposing a $200-a-year public school tuition increase.