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SUNY tuition bill emerges at long last

ALBANY –- The long-awaited state university tuition hike legislation finally appeared this afternoon, providing for a 30 percent tuition bump over five years and guaranteeing the state will not lower its aid to the State University of New York while students are asked to dig deeper to pay for college.

For the University at Buffalo, the legislation appears to give the green light for its plans to move its medical campus to downtown Buffalo.

Talks raged the past couple days at the Capitol over proposed language to benefit construction unions in the Buffalo area. Lawmakers said UB and local unions agreed during its earlier UB 2020 plan several years ago to a project labor agreement to pay prevailing wages and other union protections. A push was on in talks the past 24 hours over the broader new bill to force other SUNY campuses to also abide by a similar project labor agreement. That provision was opposed by SUNY and eventually dropped in the final bill that now only specifically requires an agreement with labor unions on UB construction projects valued over $20 million.

The legislation, expected to be voted on later today in both houses, includes a $300-per-year tuition increase over five years for in-state undergraduate students. The tuition is now $4,970 annually.

Those students now eligible for the maximum $5,000 Tuition Assistance Program will not be affected by the hike. Out-of-state SUNY students will see tuition rise 10 percent per year.

The bill also requires campuses to create a financial aid fund for students with family incomes above $80,000 and who now do not qualify for TAP.

It also includes $80 million in bonding by the state’s economic development agency, as well as another $60 million from the SUNY construction fund, to pay for development efforts at UB and the other three campus centers at Stony Brook, Binghamton and Albany. UB is in line to get $35 million in state seed money for its $375 million downtown medical school building.

UB earlier this year revised its original far more ambitious –- and, at $5 billion, more expensive -– program to overhaul all three of its campuses.

The requirement that the state maintain its SUNY funding in future years applies so long as a governor does not declare a fiscal emergency. The final bill does not contain any legal promises that the state will not sweep some tuition fund proceeds to its general fund for budget-balancing purposes, which has been a long Albany tradition. Cuomo, though, has publicly vowed not to continue that practice.

Joshua Vlasto, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said the bill will provide predictable tuition increases instead of the long-standing spikes in SUNY rates and "empowers students and parents to plan for college expenses.''

-- Tom Precious

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