Lawmakers remain at odds over SUNY plan

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Lawmakers remain at odds over a plan to overhaul the state university system, known as SUNY Empowerment.

Senate Democrats whose districts include large state university campuses are refusing to budge on voting for the final piece of the now 17-weeks-late budget, until the program is approved. The proposal would allow individual campuses to set their own tuition rates, change procurement rules and allow them to undertake economic-development projects.

But others, like Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, D-Mount Vernon, Westchester County, is concerned that the plan would make the public higher-education system unaffordable. Gov. David Paterson, along with SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, met this morning with the Black, Puerto Rican and Asian caucus to discuss their concerns over the SUNY Empowerment program.

“These are very major issues,” Hassell-Thompson said. “These are issues that are going to affect the ability of children of color to be educated in this state going forward and we want to make sure that we are satisfied that we are not going to privatize our institutions. I don’t want to do it at the expense of our children of color to get an education.”

Hassell-Thompson said she would delay budget negotiations “as long as it takes” in order to change the bill to the liking of the caucus.

Zimpher said the meeting was a productive one.

“I think we had a great exchange and people had an opportunity to say what was bugging them,” Zimpher said.

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