BUFFALO, N.Y. — The New York State Assembly’s Higher Education Committee has voted to hold a bipartisan bill that would have provided tuition and fees to attend SUNY to the families of New York military members who died while on active duty, at no cost to them.
The action taken on Tuesday effectively ends the chances of the bill making it to a vote this session, according to its sponsor, Assemblyman Stephen Hawley (R-Batavia).
The move comes just after the democrat controlled state legislature passed Governor Andrew Cuomo’s state budget, which included $27 million to provide college tuition aid for the children of illegal aliens.
“I had a bill that has bipartisan support laid aside in a committee by downstate politicians. … I’m appalled by this,” Hawley said. “To slap our veterans in the face by laying this aside when we have Democrat and Republican support is mind-boggling.”
Governor In Support
“I would support providing free SUNY tuition to the children of those people who were lost in service to the military,” Cuomo said during a Wednesday visit to Buffalo.
When it was noted to Cuomo that such a bill would now be unlikely to cross his desk this year, the governor disagreed.
"It requires a legal change, but I would support that legal change, and we have many more weeks of legislative action. The legislature is not going anywhere so we can pass that law, and I would support it,” Cuomo told WGRZ.
However, he placed no such legislation into his state budget proposal.
Reaching Across the Aisle
During the vote on Tuesday, four Democrats broke from their party to vote against holding the bill in committee.
They included freshman lawmaker Karen McMahon, the only member of the Higher Education Committee from Western New York.
In a telephone interview during a stop on her way back from the state capitol on Wednesday, McMahon explained that she voted against holding the bill because she believes in the concept of providing tuition aid for so-called Gold Star children and is therefore generally supportive of Hawley’s bill.
And while she still has questions, she also believes the bill should at least be brought to the light of day to get those questions answered, and so that it can be debated and voted on.
“Although I’m beginning to learn that’s not always what happens here in Albany,” she said.
Burke Calls Out Republicans
Meanwhile, Patrick Burke, a Democrat from Buffalo who is also in his first year as a member of the Assembly, went on the offensive against Hawley and his fellow Republicans.
“I have to push back on this false political attack,” Burke said in a statement. “We support our troops, and we support their families. The New York State National Guard, as well as combat veterans from New York, have grant opportunities from the state for college.”
Burke added, “The Assembly GOP pushed an expansion in funding for college tuition to servicemembers (sic), but they did so after the budget. Now why would they do this? … Wouldn't they have forced the vote before the budget so it had a real possibility of being funded?”
The chances, however, of Republican minority members of the Assembly “forcing” anything is slim.
Nonetheless, Burke said he would “encourage my fellow Democrats in the NYS Assembly to call them out for their underhanded political tactics and their cynical use of our servicemembers (sic) for their own gain.”
Existing Help For Gold Star Families
There are already several federal programs, through the V.A. and the G.I. Bill, which offer tuition assistance for the children of service members who die or become disabled while on active duty.
However, they have to be applied for, and in some cases other benefits may have to be forfeited in order to claim them.
Hawley says his legislation would make it automatic in New York State, which would join at least a half dozen other states that have already adopted such policies.
In New York, the number of eligible “Gold Star” Children might number several hundred, which would mean providing free tuition for them would not cost nearly as much as providing the same for tens of thousands of eligible Dreamers, who will now be provided financial assistance to attend college by the state.
Although illegal aliens can’t yet vote in the state, their children who are born here can. And they would be in line to receive tuition assistance at very same time they reach voting age.
Some suggest that because of those factors, Democrats are supporting college aid for Dreamers in order to pander for votes.
Hawley stopped short of that.
“It’s an interesting point,” Hawley said. “But I would not surmise that’s the reason Democrats have held up this bill.”
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