By JON CAMPBELL
Gannett Albany Bureau
ALBANY - The first of four public universities made its case for a $35 million grant under a new state program, presenting an aggressive downtown expansion plan Gov. Andrew Cuomo hopes will be a blueprint across the state.
University at Buffalo officials were the first to present their plan at the Capitol as part of NYSUNY 2020, a joint effort by the state and the State University of New York to offer competitive funding for capital projects at SUNY's four university centers.
The state's other university centers - Stony Brook, Binghamton and Albany - are putting the finishing touches on their plans and are being scheduled to make similar presentations, officials said. Stony Brook will be the next to present.
UB's application included much of the university's long-discussed UB 2020 plan, including the construction of a medical school in the city's downtown area, the promise of 3,000 new jobs by 2018 - and a plea to the state Legislature to allow the school to adjust its own tuition up to $200 per semester to help fund the project.
In all, the capital project would cost $375 million, with the university seeking the maximum $20 million grant from the Empire State Development Corp. and $15 million from SUNY's construction fund under the NYSUNY 2020 proposal.
"Our tuition proposal will give UB the means to pursue academic excellence while protecting students' access to high-quality education, especially for the state's neediest students," UB President Satish Tripathi said.
Twenty-five percent of the increase would be set aside for a tuition-assistance program, lessening the burden on students whose families earn less than $75,000 a year.
Currently, the Legislature has to approve a blanket tuition rate for all SUNY colleges and universities as part of the state budget process.
Some Assembly Democrats have long been reluctant to let SUNY schools set separate tuition rates for different degree programs, with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, repeating his concerns Monday.
SUNY is pushing for a "rational tuition policy" across all of its colleges and universities, which would allow the system's Board of Trustees to increase tuition by 5 percent annually over a period of five years, which proponents say would make tuition rates more predictable. The plan has Cuomo's backing but needs legislative approval.
"SUNY and (City University of New York) schools must remain affordable and accessible to any New Yorker who wants to pursue a college degree," Silver said.
Cuomo offered high praise for UB's expansion plan, calling it a "transformative plan that has the potential to revitalize Western New York."
"From the academic and research community, to business and labor, to elected and community leaders, key stakeholders across the Western New York region have come together to back this plan," Cuomo said in a statement. "This is the model my Administration will seek to replicate across the state."
The UB plan also drew support from SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, among others.
Ryan Yarosh, a spokesman for Binghamton University, said the school has submitted a draft plan to SUNY and "will continue to work with them to move the plan forward in an effort to get it adopted."
"Binghamton has laid out an agenda that when fully implemented will position the university and its partners to reinvigorate the state's economy through innovation and job creation," Yarosh said.
Each university will be eligible to receive $35 million in grants, with Zimpher making recommendations to Empire State Development's board, which will make the final approval. The first round of grants will be approved by the end of the year.