The other shoe has dropped.
Two weeks after announcing his Excelsior Scholarship Program — touted, with Bernie Sanders at his shoulder, as a “free college” plan — New York governor Andrew Cuomo has quietly proposed to sell off a building owned by the City College of New York (CUNY).
The sale is tied to his 2017 budget plan to reduce state funding for CUNY by 5.2 percent — a $63 million cut, around the estimated value of the Hunter College building he hopes to sell.
In contrast to January 3, Cuomo didn’t hold a press conference announcing this key initiative for funding higher education in the state. He did make a speech about the year’s budget, in which he asked everyone to appreciate that his “budgets have always been exceedingly generous with education spending,” but must have forgotten this small detail.
The Hunter College building is still in use by the school, and sits in the Midtown area of Manhattan. You can see why Cuomo has got moneybags in his eyes; the neighborhood makes “up and coming” sound like a snide insult. Across the street sits a fifty-two-story glass-wrapped tower owned by Extell Development, which found itself in hot water in 2013 after it upped its donations to Governor Cuomo by $300,000 just when he was weighing a controversial tax abatement projected to save Extell $35 million over ten years.
But hey, developers care about education too. That’s why last year, Extell sold one of the building’s units for $67.7 million to mega-charter chain Success Academy. There is no word on whether Success Academy’s staffers will have access to the luxury building’s rooftop pool. If they do, they’ll have a taste of daily life for CUNY students, who enjoy the refreshing drizzle of leaking ceilings while they labor in bed-bug infested libraries.
This move is further proof that while Cuomo wants to look like the good guy, he doesn’t actually want to be a good guy. His new scholarship program will help hundreds of thousands of students, but will also serve as strategic leverage to get the state’s schools — and their union workers — to accept whatever draconian cuts and sleazy deals he shoves down their throats. They don’t wanna be the reason we can’t afford free college, do they?