Did Politics Get in the Way of Expanded Tuition Program for Gold Star Families?Posted: Updated:
A bill that would make attending a state college or university free for the children of military members who were killed in the line of duty was blocked in an Assembly committee this week. North country state lawmakers say politics was at the center of it.
It's a bill that would expand a program that currently offers free SUNY or CUNY tuition to Gold Star families, or dependent family members of military personnel killed in combat. The expansion would include family members of military personnel who were killed in the line of duty but not in combat, for example in a training accident. North country state leaders want to see it happen.
"We have the 10th Mountain Division right here in the front yard of America; that's exactly what we're concerned about. These guys are training hard every day and with a lot of dangerous equipment and the loss of their life here training to deploy is not any lesser than someone who does it overseas," said Mark Walczyk (R - 116th Assembly District).
But that bill was essentially killed in the Assembly Higher Education Committee earlier this week. Committee chairwoman Deborah Glick put a motion to hold the Republican bill for consideration.
Walczyk is on the committee and voted against the hold.
"Politics were probably at the center of all of it. I think if a Democrat was a sponsor of the bill, it probably wouldn't have had the same hard time," he said.
Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush also believes the reason it was held was because it had a Republican sponsor.
"The Democratic majority is blocking Republican bills and this is exactly one of them that's a common sense bill, bipartisan because there's a lot of Assembly members that support this bill that are Democrats, but leadership and the chairwoman is holding that bill which to me, that's just not right," said Blankenbush (R. - 117th Assembly District).
Other north country state lawmakers Senator Patty Ritchie and Senator Joe Griffo also spoke out against the blocking of the bill. They, along with Blankenbush, say the Democrats have the wrong priorities, citing that the state legislature recently passed $27 million to provide free college tuition to undocumented immigrants in the state budget earlier this month.
"This according to what the chairwoman said would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for out military but yet we found $27 million for our illegals. That just doesn't make sense to me," said Blankenbush.
Assemblywoman Glick says Republicans should have acted sooner to make the change before the budget was passed. In an exchange on Twitter she wrote, "The budget contains almost $2.7 million for this program, which we believe was and is sufficient. If someone else thought otherwise, they should have said so before the budget passed. If the Minority wishes to cast themselves as powerless...."
Blankenbush disputes that, saying the bill was in with plenty of time before the budget.
Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo said this week that he would support the bill.
“I believe people who serve this nation and who made the ultimate sacrifice and lost their lives, I believe their families should be shown the same respect and we have a moral obligation, social obligation to help those families who lost their provider, their loved one in service to the nation,” he said.