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GOP leader calls UB 2020 a top priority

The Senate's top Republican said a plan to give the University at Buffalo, and perhaps three other state university centers, more fiscal autonomy will be a top priority in his talks with the Democratic governor and Assembly leader.

"We're committed to it," Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said of the stalled UB 2020 plan that calls for new public-private partnerships, a tuition hike and more revenues to help the campus with its ambitious downtown development plans.

Skelos made the comments in an interview just hours after the heads of the Assembly and Senate higher education committees strongly suggested the UB 2020 effort is dead and won't be part of the 2011 budget talks.

The comments also came a day after Senate Democrats slammed Skelos for not including the proposal in a broader GOP state budget bill that the Senate passed Tuesday.

"We intend to engage very vigorously to get this into the final [budget] version," Skelos said.

The Long Island Republican suggested the three other SUNY campus centers -- Stony Brook, Binghamton and Albany -- could be included in the plan. He called on Assembly Democrats -- including the bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Robin Schimminger of Kenmore -- to "step up" and get the bill passed.

The UB 2020 plan, which the Senate overwhelmingly passed two weeks ago in a narrower bill, has been opposed by unions, some student groups and a number of Assembly members who say it will hurt students by allowing expensive tuition hikes and give too much fiscal freedom to a public entity.

"It is certainly the feeling of the majority in my house that this is not the appropriate method for dealing with the issues that concern SUNY," Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, a Manhattan Democrat, said of the Senate-approved UB-only bill.

"It is a system, and it has been our position for the last couple of years that isolating one campus is not salutary for the future of SUNY, or for public higher education," she said Wednesday during a joint Assembly and Senate conference committee.

Sen. Kenneth LaValle, a Long Island Republican who heads the panel with Glick, said, "I think that we've got to approach this budget in a way that takes care, [that] understands we have a system and that we have components in that system, and I think we have a responsibility to address the needs of all the children in the SUNY system."

Although the Senate passed the UB 2020 bill, it is not part of the budget, which it must be to become reality. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo supported the concept during the campaign, but his budget plan includes only some of the proposal's components.

Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, said it is "unconscionable" that Schimminger has been unable to get Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to come to UB.

Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo, said he was "disappointed" the UB 2020 issue wasn't in the Senate GOP budget bill. But he added, "At this point, I'm not committing to saying I'm not going to vote for this budget, because I have hopes that it's still going to be in there."

He said the bill includes $138 million in capital money for UB, restores money for Roswell Park Cancer Institute and has more money for local schools.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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