Qualifying for free SUNY tuition under the new state budget

Apr 10, 2017
Originally published on April 12, 2017 10:55 am

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York would be the first state to make tuition at public colleges and universities free for middle-class students under a state budget set for passage in Albany.

The plan crafted by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo would apply to any New York student whose family has an annual income of $125,000 or less. To qualify the student would have to meet certain class load and grade point average restrictions, and room and board would not be covered.

The initiative is included in a $153 billion state budget proposal that passed the state Assembly on Saturday. The state Senate approved the spending plan late Sunday night.

The tuition plan would be phased in over three years, with families making $100,000 or less annually eligible in the fall of 2017, with the threshold rising to $125,000 in 2019. About 940,000 families in the state would meet the income criteria when the program is fully implemented. The initiative also includes $19 million for a new tuition award program for students at private colleges.

Cuomo said Sunday that the tuition plan, which his office has estimated to cost $163 million, is a national first.

"College is today what high school was 50 years ago," he said on a radio interview Sunday on AM 970 in New York City. "If you're a young person who wants success and a career, a college education is necessary.

The budget also includes provisions allowing the ride-hailing apps Uber and Lyft to expand upstate and a juvenile justice reform known as 'raise the age' that would raise the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18.

"All New Yorkers scored a victory with this budget," said Senate Leader John Flanagan, R-Long Island.

The last proposal emerged as a top priority for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and other Democrats and was one of the greatest sticking points for a budget. The agreement would raise the age slowly, to 17 in October 2018 and to 18 a year later.

Under the deal, young offenders would no longer be incarcerated in adult prisons and jails but would go to juvenile facilities where they could receive additional rehabilitation and treatment. Non-violent offenders could apply to have their criminal records sealed after a 10-year waiting period.

Similar reforms have been proposed in North Carolina.

After years of failed attempts, Uber and Lyft finally would be able to move into upstate cities such as Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Albany. The ride-hailing apps have been limited to the New York City area but are expected to begin service upstate 90 days after the budget is approved.

"It's embarrassing that we don't have ride-sharing services yet," said Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo. "This bill changes that. This bill brings our community, our entire state, into the 21st century."

The budget also includes $200 million to fight heroin and opioid addiction, $2.5 billion to protect water quality and upgrade the state's aging water and sewer systems and the approval of $2.5 billion to address homelessness and the shortage of affordable housing. It has an affordable housing tax credit for New York City developers and increases school funding by $1.1 billion to $25.8 billion.

Tighter campaign finance laws, term limits for lawmakers and new rules restricting outside income were left out of the budget again this year. Following widespread complaints from last year's elections, Cuomo proposed changes, including early voting and automatic registration, but those weren't included in the final agreement either.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that New York and North Carolina are the only states that prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.  

While they are the only states that regularly route 16-year-olds into adult courts and prisons, a total of seven states still try 17-year-olds as adults and in some cases imprison them with adult inmates.  

Other states try teenagers as adults only in cases involving extreme violence or other aggravating circumstances.

New York will gradually shift 16- and 17-year-olds into family court and juvenile detention centers over the next two years.