Release Date: January 16, 2009
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Western New York members of the New York State Senate and Assembly will introduce a new bill that would help the University at Buffalo achieve the objectives of UB 2020, the university's strategic plan to grow by 40 percent, create new jobs for the region and increase its annual local economic impact from $1.7 billion to $3.6 billion.
The "UB 2020 Flexibility and Economic Growth Act" proposes changes in state law to give UB the financial flexibility needed to achieve its strategic plan. The bill is sponsored by the Western New York state delegation and is being introduced to the Senate and Assembly as Bill No. 2020 by the senior members of the delegation, Assemblyman Robin Schimminger and Senator William T. Stachowski.
"A thriving UB is good for Western New York's economy in a great many ways," said Schimminger, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry. "UB brings a huge state investment into our region, and by easing some of the constraints under which the university is forced to operate, we can help the returns on that investment grow."
Added Stachowski, "I cannot emphasize enough the critical importance of the UB 2020 strategic plan and the tremendous positive impact it will have on Buffalo and Western New York. As the new chairman of the New York State Senate Economic Development Committee, I will do everything in my power to ensure that the UB 2020 plan comes to fruition and becomes the catalyst for future economic growth in our region."
Bill No. 2020 was announced to an enthusiastic crowd of more than 200 UB supporters at a rally held in the UB Downtown Gateway (the former M. Wile Building) in Buffalo. Statements of support for the bill were made by several Western New York legislators, as well as Peter Grollitsch, president of UB Student Association, and Tim Lafferty, co-chair of the UB Parent Council.
Four areas of state law would be reformed by the bill, empowering UB to pursue growth strategies commonly used by other large research universities nationwide:
• Tuition flexibility -- The bill authorizes UB to set modest increases in tuition by program and class year for its undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs, based on the average tuition of peer public institutions. Tuition revenues would be used exclusively for UB educational needs and for financial aid for students. Twenty percent of the new tuition revenue will be used to provide need-based aid to students. Aid available through the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) also will be increased to cover tuition increases. This new tuition policy would provide rational tuition planning, whereby students, parents, the university and the community can benefit, instead of the current state policy of "tuition roulette," with its large, unexpected tuition increases.
• Capital project and construction flexibility -- The bill would give UB flexibility for future construction projects on its three campuses by allowing UB access to capital project financing through the Dormitory Authority of New York and local industrial agencies. It would allow UB to use alternative, less costly construction models, such as design-build, where a public agency contracts with a general contractor to both design and build the project.
• Property flexibility -- The bill would give UB more flexibility to lease, purchase or sell land to maximize educational and commercial-development opportunities associated with the UB 2020 plan. It permits UB to participate in public-private partnerships with public, nonprofit and business organizations to further the objectives of UB and UB 2020. With this authority, UB could enter into agreements with developers to build a hotel and conference center, parking garages and auxiliary services on its three campuses, for example.
• Procurement flexibility -- The bill would allow UB to purchase goods and services without prior state approval. Current policies that require pre-approval of even small purchases hamper efficient business practices, delaying projects and driving up costs.
Annual state funding to UB will not be reduced in proportion to the amount of revenue UB generates through tuition increases, the bill states.
UB President John B. Simpson thanked the members of the Western New York delegation for their leadership in crafting the bill. He noted that the Western New York community has embraced the UB 2020 goals, which are focused on creation of a preeminent public research university, economic development and campus growth, including expansion of UB's downtown campus, where a new Academic Health Center would bring an estimated 13,000 UB faculty, staff and students to downtown Buffalo.
"Four months ago I addressed this community and outlined our challenges, and put forward a policy agenda for meeting those challenges," Simpson said. "I said then, and it remains the case, that to succeed UB needs changed a number of outdated and unnecessary rules and regulations that are holding us and our community back. I am very excited and proud to say that our Western New York delegation has shown tremendous initiative in taking on this challenge, and turning these policies into a concrete, specific legislative solution."
Tuition reform, Simpson added, will enable UB to develop a predictable and rational tuition plan that responds to the needs both of our students and their university. The state historically has used tuition increases to make up for shortfalls in the state budget. UB and other SUNY schools have not received revenue generated by tuition increases under current state policy, Simpson pointed out.
"Passage of this bill will enable UB students and their parents to plan for modest increases in tuition instead of being surprised by sudden tuition increases announced in Albany," he said. "Moreover, the bill mandates that tuition be reinvested in the university and include financial aid. This will allow UB to provide additional access to an enhanced university education while improving need-based financial assistance."
The bill requires annual reports on the status of UB 2020.
The bill's reforms grew from recommendations made by the New York State Commission on Higher Education in its 2008 report. Simpson and Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples served on the commission. Simpson called for passage of these "common-sense" reforms in his annual community address in September. He since has made the reforms the centerpiece of a community-wide effort to move ahead with the UB 2020 plan in the face of declining state support for higher education, brought on by the nationwide economic crisis.
The state cut $20 million from UB's operating budget in 2008.
UB 2020 is widely endorsed by the Western New York community as the region's best strategy for economic development and regional job creation. More than 30 business, labor, community and university groups support the UB 2020 initiative. They include the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, Amherst Chamber of Commerce, the City of Buffalo, Erie County and Town of Amherst; Building Trades and United Autoworkers; Kaleida Health, Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and Roswell Park Cancer Institute; the Board of Block Clubs, United Way and Oishei Foundation; and the UB Undergraduate Association, Faculty Senate and UB Parent Council.
Members of the Western New York delegation made the following statements of support for the bill and UB 2020:
Assemblyman Sam Hoyt said, "I am proud to support this package of essential reforms that will help ensure that UB is not only able to successfully implement the UB 2020 plan, but able to adapt to changing times more effectively. The rational tuition policy is something I have long supported because I recognize how important it is to students and their families to be able to predict the cost of tuition and not be caught off-guard by sudden and steep increases. These reforms will help strengthen UB and, in turn, our community as a whole."
Senator Antoine Thompson said, "I believe that UB2020 will supplement development currently underway in Buffalo and Western New York. It will serve as a catalyst for the future."
Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte said, "I completely support UB's 2020 plan and believe its implementation will create economic energy that will benefit all of Western New York. New York State needs to give UB the freedom to realize its potential as a first-rate research university."
Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples said, "The UB 2020 plan is the perfect opportunity to invest in infrastructure and development projects that allow the creation of jobs, boost the local economy and attract high quality professionals and business leaders integral to positive growth. The Western New York delegation and I are united in the vision of UB continuing to grow as a great public research institution that would not only expand our knowledge base but also help redevelop a long neglected community located in the 141st Assembly district. This is a season for change; UB 2020 is a catalyst that can keep our children and grandchildren home, instead of migrating to other urban communities for more promising futures."
Senator Dale Volker said, "For over a decade, I have worked very hard with the University at Buffalo to secure state resources to help create and improve the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. It has a proven track record of being a hub for new emerging technologies and with it new spin-off companies that have created good-paying jobs for our region. Now is the time to be proactive. Working in a collaborative effort with private and public sector entities, we will make sure that the enormous potential of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus reaches fruition in a campus right in downtown Buffalo, with 13,000 employees, and will help revitalize downtown Buffalo."
Assemblyman Mark Schroeder said, "Technological innovation will be the driving force behind the cultivation of a new economy in Western New York and is the key to creating quality jobs for years to come. The University at Buffalo is the cornerstone of this effort; the ambitious UB 2020 plan is crucial to the future of our region."
Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak said, "It's a dynamic plan and holds a lot of promise for the future. UB 2020 provides the vision for the University at Buffalo that will continue to promote the university in the national spotlight and bring about the recognition the university deserves."
Senator George Maziarz said, "The long-term answer to what ails our region is economic growth, and creating new economic growth is what UB 2020 is all about. When I hear that UB 2020 can create 10,000 jobs for our region, including more than 6,000 non-faculty jobs up and down the income ladder, we all need to be a part of making that happen."
Assemblyman Jack Quinn said, "As a lifelong resident of Western New York, I have seen a lot of silver bullet ideas for Buffalo over the years. But UB 2020 is already being implemented and has the ability to foster true economic, physical and cultural revitalization if fully realized."
Senator Mike Ranzenhofer said, "As a newly elected senator and UB graduate, I am very supportive of those initiatives, which promote efficiency and will make UB more competitive."
Assemblywoman Jane Corwin said, "I stand fully supportive of the UB 2020 legislative roll-out. The expansion and development of the University at Buffalo will spur economic growth and create jobs in Western New York. This project will be highly beneficial to local communities and taxpayers throughout New York State."