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Budget to exclude UB 2020, but proposal will stay alive

The final state budget will not include the University at Buffalo's ambitious UB 2020 plan, the Legislature's top Republican said Thursday. But Western New York lawmakers insist the issue will remain alive for the rest of the legislative session.

"The [Assembly] speaker says absolutely not, and the governor has not shown much interest in making it part of the budget," State Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos, of Rockville Centre, said in an interview.

A Senate-backed plan would allow UB, plus State University of New York campus centers in Binghamton, Stony Brook and Albany, to raise tuition annually and keep the proceeds for campus operating expenses instead of giving most of the revenue to the state's general fund. It also would ease ways for the universities to enter in public-private partnership deals. For UB, the plan is essential to its major redevelopment plan for downtown Buffalo.

Skelos said the chief obstacle has been the Assembly. He noted the Senate passed a UB 2020-only bill with only one "no" vote earlier this session.

"If it got done in the Assembly, I'm confident that the governor would be supportive of it. I do believe during the campaign he indicated he was supportive of UB 2020," Skelos said.

Joshua Vlasto, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said in a brief statement that the governor "supports UB 2020 and would like to see it passed as soon as possible."

Skelos downplayed earlier claims by at least one Western New York lawmaker -- freshman State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti of Buffalo -- that failure to include UB 2020 in the budget would cost the Senate his support and that of others for the fiscal plan.

With a 32-30 majority, Republicans can't afford defections if they want to control legislation with their own votes.

"They've not told me they're not going to vote for the budget," Skelos said. "We're not going to shut down government. There's going to be a [budget] agreement, and we're going to push very hard to get UB 2020 passed before this session is over."

Critics say UB 2020 would limit access to college for some students and encourage privatization of some parts of the public system while limiting oversight of the Legislature over matters like tuition.

Asked about Skelos' comments, Silver said Thursday that "it's obviously still on the table. I don't think there are any conclusions."

Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan, an Elma Republican who has hinted he might not vote for the budget if it did not include UB 2020, said Thursday that the budget is expected to contain one element of the plan, allowing SUNY schools to purchase certain goods more quickly.

Gallivan said he can't say how he will vote on the budget because he has no final details.

Gallivan and most of the rest of the Western New York legislative delegation attended a meeting on the UB 2020 issue Thursday with several top Cuomo administration officials, including Howard Glaser, state operations director.

"What I heard [Glaser] say was don't jump off the building if this thing doesn't happen in the budget process, which I think is reasonable because the governor didn't put it into the budget in the first place," said Assemblyman Mark J.F. Schroeder, a Buffalo Democrat, who requested the meeting.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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