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SUNY tuition bill has NNY support

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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Students in the state-run university system could see tuition hikes if bills that are generating north country support gain approval from the Legislature and, finally, from the governor.


Dubbed "rational tuition," the plan would allow SUNY trustees to increase tuition by 5.5 percent every year for the next five years.


Citing slashed state support for the SUNY system, the SUNY Student Assembly not only has endorsed the proposal, but has gone to Albany to persuade north country legislators to support the measure.


So far, they have two saying yes in the Assembly and two Senate maybes.


"I think being able to provide a plan for several years down the road is something we must do so our families can plan for the costs of education," said Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, who will sign on to the bill as a co-sponsor.


The bills, recently introduced in the Senate and Assembly, also would set up a separate trust fund to prevent "sweeps" of SUNY money to the state general fund.


Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, joined his Democratic colleague in endorsing the bill.


"As a graduate of SUNY Plattsburgh, I know first-hand the value of a SUNY education, which rivals private schools but costs significantly less," Mr. Blankenbush said in an emailed statement. "As such, I support a rational SUNY tuition plan, which would provide predictable tuition increases over 5 years. If New York State is going to keep cutting funding to SUNY, there needs to be a way to make up revenue without cutting programs or closing campuses."


Sens. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, whose districts include SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam, respectively, said through their spokesmen that they still were thinking over the legislation.


James E. Reagen, Mrs. Ritchie's spokesman, said that despite some concerns about keeping tuition affordable, the senator has talked over the issue with SUNY presidents and she was keeping "an open mind about it."


In previous forms, the legislation contained an arrangement to which Mr. Griffo had objected. Called "differential tuition," it would allow a campus such as Binghamton University to raise tuition more than a campus such as SUNY Potsdam.


But that's no longer in this legislation.


The union representing university teachers also had opposed previous efforts to set tuition in advance based on opposition to letting campuses set different rates.


Donald I. Feldstein, spokesman for United University Professors, said the union's staff was still looking over the legislation and had yet to take a stance on it.


North country education leaders, on the other hand, have made up their minds, and they're asking legislators to pass the bill.


"The rational tuition plan has widespread support from the students all the way to the governor," SUNY Canton President Joseph L. Kennedy said. "The incremental steps will give students and their families predictable and rational tuition increases that they can plan for and maintain accessibility to a career-driven SUNY Canton education."


Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has not specifically endorsed the recently introduced legislation, but has said in general terms that the current tuition system does not work.


SUNY Potsdam President John F. Schwaller also is throwing his support behind the bill.


"This legislation will protect students from large unexpected tuition increases. It will provide campuses with the financial stability they need to plan for the future," Mr. Schwaller said. "It provides protection to SUNY that funds will not be diverted into the state general fund, and it provides for legislative and administrative oversight of the process to assure that the needs of the state and its citizens are being met."

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