ALBANY - The state Legislature's Democratic leaders vowed to fight Gov. David A. Paterson's proposed cuts to public colleges and student aid programs as the budget debate intensified yesterday.
Legislative leaders targeted Paterson's proposed funding cuts of more than 4 percent to the State University of New York and the City University of New York, a cut to financial aid by $75 per student under the Tuition Assistance Program and flat funding for programs that help minority students get into and stay in college.
"As if subtracting from the greatest investment the state can make in its future makes sense," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan). In December, Paterson spoke of a high-tech future based on innovation, then earlier this month in his budget proposed cuts to SUNY and CUNY, Silver said.
Senate majority Conference Leader John Sampson drew cheers when he told the higher education advocates that neither he nor President Barack Obama would have risen to leadership if it weren't for public education and programs that help minorities.
Neither Silver nor Sampson would say if it's feasible to turn back all of Paterson's cuts in a final budget due April 1.
But Sampson's opposition to two of Paterson's revenue raisers would limit funds that could be used to restore cuts. He said he opposes a Paterson proposal to increase the state cigarette tax by $1 per pack and to tax soda syrup. Paterson would use almost all of the tax revenue for anti-smoking programs and to fight obesity.
The taxes would raise $650 million in 2010-11 and $1.175 billion the following year, while reducing smoking and childhood obesity and the related costly health care, Paterson said.
Sampson said he didn't want to increase fees or taxes, while Silver said he wouldn't rule anything out.
Hours later, Paterson defended his budget in a live webcast with opinion writers and editors of newspapers from Buffalo to the Hudson Valley and from Binghamton to Watertown.
"The hope for New York is that by making the tougher choices this year, we will already start to see the benefit next year," Paterson said.
He then blamed the Legislature and most lawmakers, many of whom he served with for more than 20 years as a senator. "I do feel a sense of betrayal," Paterson said.