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Funding for the state's Tuition Assistance Program, which helps provide financial aid to some 300,000 college students in New York, will not be cut as Gov. Pataki had proposed earlier.

The agreement between Pataki and legislative leaders comes several weeks after the state budget negotiators said there would be no tuition increase at the State University of New York this fall. When he unveiled his overall budget plan last January, Pataki proposed a $175 million cut in TAP and a $400 tuition hike to SUNY's $3,400-a-year tuition level.

The timing of the announcement by the governor was unusual, however, and produced an angry rebuke by Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. The sides had been heeding a news blackout during the budget talks, but Pataki's office -- just moments before a closed-door meeting between the governor and legislative leaders -- released a two-page press release claiming there was an agreement on the TAP funding.

"He's talking about what we're doing?" Bruno asked. "Till we put something (overall) together, we don't have anything done," a clearly agitated Bruno said going into the meeting.

The governor insisted the timing was to let college students -- who are heading off to classes in six or so weeks -- know what kind of financial aid will be available to them.

The governor, by fully funding the $600 million TAP program, also agreed to end his proposal to limit state aid to students enrolled in community colleges. He had called for a four-semester limit in TAP funding for those in the SUNY two-year system, a plan many educators said would cause a drop in enrollment at the public colleges.

The TAP funding deal appeared to be another victory for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who made blocking the tuition hike and restoring TAP aid a priority for the budget.

The TAP agreement will be contained in a emergency bill the full Legislature will be voting on today when they return to Albany.

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