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Education leaders criticize proposed state budget

SARANAC LAKE - During Barack Obama's State of the Union speech last Wednesday night, President Barack Obama pledged to pour billions of dollars into the nation's education system.

Just hours before the President's address, however, state Gov. David Paterson proposed cuts to the State University system - $90 million worth.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said Paterson's reductions carry major economic ramifications.

"People will see a change in quality," she said. "And we can't afford that academically - To say these cuts don't have a profound impact would be wrong."

Phillip Smith, president of United University Professions, testified before a joint legislative committee, stating that the SUNY system is already being forced to turn away thousands of qualified students.

Smith said Paterson's cuts would eliminate about a quarter of SUNY's total operating budget.

"Funding for SUNY, if this is allowed to go forward, would be 80 million dollars less than it was in 1990," he said. "And yet we have 40,000 more students in our institution."

Paterson has acknowledged the cuts are deep - but he's also reiterated that he will not budge. The Governor has repeatedly stated that if legislators refuse to make the tough decisions, he'll do it for them.

But Smith said the SUNY system is taking a disproportionate hit. According to his math, Paterson's proposed cuts slash about $500 million from SUNY operations over the next two years.

"This would be a 25 percent cut to the budgets of all agencies combined," Smith said. "It just begs the question: why is public higher education being targeted in this manner?"

Carol Brown, president of North Country Community College said that Paterson's budget, if passed, would have a dramatic effect on the region. She said she was more optimistic than Smith, however. because of several other proposals being discussed by the state legislature.

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