BUFFALO, NY - Governor Cuomo's proposal to offer free SUNY tuition for students who come from middle, to lower middle class households, continues to raise more questions than answers.
Among those wondering most how the plan will work, are the state lawmakers who will eventually decide whether to approve the Governor's plan.
According to NY State Sen. Robert Ortt, (R-North Tonawanda) the first thing that should be understood regarding any proposal for “free college”, is that it will certainly not be “free”.
“You don’t need a college education to understand that,” said Ortt in a telephone interview from Albany, where legislators began their 2017 session on Wednesday.
“The money is going to have to come from someplace,” said Ortt. “Who is going to pay for it, and how are we going to pay for it are the main questions.”
So far, the Governor has yet to say how he would fund the estimated $163 million the program would cost in just its first year.
When contacted by 2 On Your Side, a spokesman for the Governor replied that details would be forthcoming when the Governor releases his budget later this month.
"It's odd that it is forthcoming,” said Ortt. “Because you would think they would know that question would be forthcoming when they did their press event."
Ortt went further in stating that he is convinced the governor’s tuition plan, which he announced in a joint appearance with Vermont Senator and 2016 Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders, is rooted in Cuomo’s own desire to run for President.
“I think the announcement had more to do with Iowa in 2020, than New York in 2017,” Ortt said.
NYS Sen. Patrick Gallivan (R-West Seneca) said that while he is “intrigued” with the possibility of making college more affordable for a greater number of students, he too is wary of the bottom line.
“Anytime the state is contributing funds, those funds come from taxpayers,” said Gallivan.
“There will be a lot of discussion on this in the coming months,” Gallivan told Channel 2 News. “And I know the focus of the discussion, at least in the State Senate, will be focused on affordability. And we’re not going to take a step into something that the taxpayers of the state cannot afford.”
It's possible the program could be funded through higher taxes—which means every working New Yorker will pay for the so called free college.
Or, it could mean higher SUNY Tuition which would mean the parents of students who don't meet the eligibility guidelines, because they make more than $125,000 per year, will be footing the bill for the students whose parents make less than that.
It is also important to note, that what Cuomo is proposing is that the state, pick up the cost of tuition, and only tuition, for income eligible students.
At an average of nearly $6,500 tuition only reflects about one third of the cost of attending a four SUNY College.
Room and board—which Cuomo does not propose paying for—makes up the remaining two thirds, of what is now the average annual cost of roughly $19,000 to attend a SUNY college.
Ortt also maintains that Cuomo's proposal for "free" tuition, --which the Governor says will reduce the debt some students will face upon graduation, does nothing to address the so called “brain drain”, whereby college graduates seeking jobs, and who can't find them in New York, take their SUNY education and their search for gainful employment elsewhere.
"Unless we fix the job issue, all we're gonna do is educate them for free and then they'll just go to North Carolina, Texas, Florida or wherever else they’ve been going for many years and get a job," Ortt said.