Senate Democrats Submit Bills for SUNY Empowerment Act, Medicaid Contingency Plan

10:04 PM, Jul 12, 2010   |    comments
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ALBANY - Senate Democrats introduced legislation Sunday to implement the State University of New York Empowerment Act and put a contingency plan in place in case the federal government doesn't come through with $1 billion in Medicaid funding.

The bills have to "age" for 72 hours before they can be voted on, meaning they would be ready to voted on Wednesday. Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson, D-Brooklyn, has said the chamber could return this week to vote on the budget revenue bill, but the Senate has not confirmed it will be back this week.

The Assembly left the Capitol after passing all the budget legislation. The Senate finished everything except the revenue bill before leaving for Independence Day holiday. A few Democratic senators said they would not support a revenue bill unless there was an agreement on the SUNY/CUNY legislation. The budget was due April 1.

Senate Republicans had not been told as of Monday afternoon when the Senate session would be, said Mark Hansen, a spokesman for Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County.

Neither the SUNY/City University of New York bill nor the Medicaid contingency legislation has an Assembly sponsor. The SUNY/CUNY legislation is called the Public Education Fairness Act, changed from the Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act. Key legislators in the Assembly have opposed the Empowerment Act.

"In the past, Albany passed budgets that New Yorkers simply could not afford," said Travis Proulx, a spokesman for the Senate Democratic Majority. "These two bills will ensure this year's budget, despite extraordinary challenges, includes a contingency plan for spending reductions, as well as an opportunity for SUNY and CUNY to take their place as world class academic institutions, which will help revitalize our economy."

Sisa Moyo, a spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said Monday that discussions continued between the Senate and Assembly on the those issues.

The Public Higher Education Fairness Act would allow SUNY and CUNY trustees to increase tuition in the 2010-11 academic by a maximum of 2 percent. From 2011-12 through 2014-15, tuition for undergraduates who live in New York could increase up to 4 percent annually. Campuses would keep all of the revenue from the tuition hike.

Starting in 2011-12, non-state residents and students in graduate or professional degree programs could be charged different tuition rates by campus and program of study.

Beginning in 2011-12 and going through the 2014-15 academic year, SUNY university centers - the University of Buffalo, Stony Brook on Long Island, Binghamton University and the University at Albany -- would be permitted to charge different in-state tuition rates for different undergraduate degree programs. The maximum increase for undergraduate tuition would be 7 percent.

Other key elements of the legislation included:  

-- Raising the Tuition Assistance Program maximum award by up to 60 percent of the difference between the highest tuition rate and the current $5,000 ceiling. The increase would apply to students in public and private colleges and universities.
   -- Allowing the university centers, with the exception of Binghamton, to lease and purchase land and form public/private partnerships if the state Asset Maximization Board approved.
   -- Speeding up the purchasing process by allowing SUNY to purchase goods without requiring a pre-audit by the state comptroller's office. A pre-audit would still be required for contracts and buying services.

The bill to enact a contingency plan for Medicaid funding would require across-the-board reductions to the budget if Congress doesn't make provisions for paying the funds by Nov. 15. Up to $1 billion is at stake. 

There would be exceptions for emergency assistance for families, reductions that would violate federal law and other areas. The Legislature would have to approve the reduction plan.


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