New York State Budget Proposal Holds Challenges for Genesee

The New York State budget proposed last week by Governor George E. Pataki holds many challenges for Genesee Community College, including a possible loss of more than $1.5 million in state aid revenue, President Stuart Steiner reported to the Board of Trustees this evening. The Board met at the Batavia Campus for its regular monthly meeting.

The budget proposes several cuts in state aid to all State University of New (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) community colleges, including Genesee:

• The Governor's budget proposes a 15% cut in "base aid," from $2,300 per full-time equivalent student to $1,955 per full-time equivalent student. Base aid is the state's contribution toward each student's education at the thirty SUNY community colleges. The 15% cut, applied to about 3,350 FTEs, would create an income loss of $1.15 million.

• Elimination of rental reimbursement for leased educational facilities. The State has been paying 50% of community college rental costs. Genesee currently leases its five regional campus centers. These were built over the last thirteen years through a creative public/private partnership which required no capital outlay on the College's part. Elimination of rental reimbursement would result in a loss of $283,000 in College revenue.

• Elimination of workforce development grants, which enable the College to provide training to employees and managers of area organizations. Over the last several years, Genesee has trained hundreds of workers in such organizations as United Memorial Medical Center, Professional Driver's Institute, The Willow Group, Syntec Technologies, Inc., P. W. Minor & Son, Inc., and Oatka Milk Products. Elimination of workforce grants would result in a loss of $97,000.

The potential cut in base aid is the most painful, Dr. Steiner noted. If enrollment increases again during the 2003-2004 year, as expected, the College would feel increased financial pressure with each additional student. "The Governor has proposed a $1,200 tuition increase for attendance at the state's four-year colleges and universities," he said. "If there is a substantial tuition increase at state-operated SUNY campuses, this would drive even more students to Genesee and other community colleges."

The Governor's budget is not the final state budget, Dr. Steiner reminded the Board of Trustees. The New York State Legislature must now consider the Governor's proposed budget, and the Legislature's two houses will probably adopt their own versions of the budget. If recent history is any guide, months will go by before next year's budget is finalized. "Over the last fifteen years, the State Assembly, the State Senate, and the Governor had different spending priorities and different revenue estimates," Dr. Steiner told the Board. "Eventually they compromise on a budget. Until they do, we will not know for sure the amount of state aid Genesee will receive next year."

Regardless of the final budget deliberations, Genesee will almost certainly face some financial challenges during the 2003-2004 year, which for Genesee begins September 1. "We recognize the severity of the state's fiscal situation, and we recognize that no sector of state support will go untouched," Dr. Steiner noted.

The College's approach to the state budget crisis will be two-fold, the President said: "First, we will continue our very conservative approach to budgeting. We will be cautious in our state revenue estimates, a practice that has served us well in the past. And second, working with other community colleges, we will articulate - in a very positive and thoughtful manner - the impact we make on our students and our communities. We hope to work with our legislators to minimize the impact of state cuts on community colleges, and make the state's investment in our community colleges more valuable than ever."

The College is currently preparing a budget for the 2003-2004 year. The potential loss of state aid means that the College will not add a number of previously planned faculty and support staff positions next year. The College may also reduce or eliminate equipment and technology purchases to cope with the shortfall.

Despite the gloomy budget news, the 2003-2004 year will bring some positive benefits to the College and to students:

• The Governor's budget proposal potentially sets aside about $3.7 million for possible future capital projects reflected in Genesee's long-range Facilities Master Plan. These include continued upgrading of technology and replacement of aging mechanical systems. While the College will not receive most of these funds during the 2003-2004 year, staff members are planning for eventual replacements of portions of the HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems at the Batavia Campus. The current HVAC systems were installed when the Batavia Campus was constructed in the early 1970s. HVAC replacement may reduce heating and air handling costs, as well as reduce ongoing repair expenses. However, funding for these projects usually requires a local dollar match. Funds may also be specifically available for technology support. The amount of technology dollars available for each college, and the uses of these funds are still to be determined by SUNY.

• Genesee will continue to be among the most affordable community colleges in the northeastern United States. The Governor's proposed SUNY tuition hike of $1,200 applies only to state-operated colleges, not community colleges, which are operated by local sponsors. Although the Board of Trustees will not set tuition until the springtime - hopefully when state budget figures become clear - the College is committed to keeping any tuition hike modest, Dr. Steiner said.

• Genesee's economic impact on the surrounding region will top $60 million next year, Dr. Steiner predicted. "Although we're facing the most difficult college budget in recent memory, we take great pride in the knowledge that we continue to make an immense contribution to the local economy and to the lives of our students."

• Unlike many state-supported programs that receive 100% of their funding from the state, Genesee relies on the state for only a portion of its budget, which in recent years has been in the 35% - 40% range. Support from the sponsor (Genesee County), other counties around the state, and tuition and fees, make up the remainder of the revenue. "We anticipate that revenue from non-state sources will make up for the loss of some of the state aid. However, non-state revenue will not make up for the projected loss of a 15% base aid cut and rental support."