The New York Senate rejected a bill Monday evening that would open up state tuition assistance to students in the country illegally, with Republicans saying that they could not support such a bill until all legal students have their education paid for.
The bill’s defeat dashed long-held hopes of immigration advocates and prompted finger-pointing among rival Democrats.
The 30-29 vote was short of the 32 votes needed to pass, a rare defeat for a bill on the floor of the Senate. There are 63 seats, two are vacant, and two senators did not vote.
The Senate’s majority coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats brought the closely watched bill to the floor late in the day with little notice. No Republicans voted for the measure, though all five of their coalition partners in the Independent Democratic Conference voted for it. All but one of the mainline Democrats in the minority voted for the measure.
The proposal includes a budget appropriation of $25 million to open up Tuition Assistance Program money for illegals who attend public or private colleges, paying up to $5,000 a year for undergraduates at four-year institutions.
Exactly how many would have been eligible for the need-based assistance is unclear, but according to a report issued by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, 8,300 such students in the CUNY and SUNY systems would qualify.
Since it was first introduced three years ago, opponents have argued that using taxpayer money to fund tuition assistance for people in the country illegally takes opportunity and funds away from students who are citizens. New York is among 16 states that already allow those students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges.
The Assembly passed the Dream Act last month. After the Senate vote, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has indicated support for the bill, released a statement saying he was disappointed that the Senate had failed to pass the measure.
Opponents said the bill amounted to an improper use of taxpayer funds.
“I simply cannot justify spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars annually to pay for tuition for illegal immigrants when so many law-abiding families are struggling to meet the ever-increasing costs of higher education for their own children,” said Sen. Mark Grisanti, a Republican from the Buffalo area.
A bill currently in the budget would allow education donations to be matched by a dollar-for-dollar tax credit. Opposition to that measure nearly mirrors the support or the Dream Act; union-backed Democrats versus Republicans.
Sen. Ted O’Brien, a Democrat from the Rochester area, was the only member in his conference to vote no on the bill. Advocates had looked across the aisle to Long Island Republican Sens. Jack Martins and Phil Boyle, both with a sizable Hispanic constituency. Martins voted against the bill and Boyle was not present to vote.