Budget cuts and tuition hike for UMass

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2015/07/23/budget-cuts-and-tuition-hike-for-umass/

By Colin A. Young

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON  Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto of more than $5 million in University of Massachusetts funding “presents challenges” for the state’s five-campus system, its administration says, and university officials hope legislators will overturn the cut.

Before he signed the annual budget bill last Friday, Baker vetoed $162 million from the $38.1 billion spending plan, including $5.25 million in UMass funding.

In a statement Friday, new UMass President Marty Meehan said he was disappointed that Baker reduced funding for UMass from the $531.8 million approved by the House and Senate to $526.6 million.

“This veto presents challenges that we must now assess as we pursue our overarching goals of building quality, while at the same time protecting the University’s long-term fiscal stability,” Meehan, who was a member of Baker’s transition team, said in the statement.

The UMass system had asked for $578 million in fiscal 2016, saying that amount would allow for a freeze in tuition and fees paid by in-state students and their families for a third consecutive year.

Last month, the UMass Board of Trustees voted to increase tuition and a mandatory curriculum fee by up to 5 percent for in-state undergraduate students, saying that it did not foresee receiving the $578 million it had requested. Robert Connolly, a UMass spokesman, said there has been no discussion of raising fees or tuition further because of the governor’s veto and doubts that there would be.

The cut comes as families continue to make difficult decisions about higher education, given steadily rising costs at both public and private campuses that are putting more pressure on household budgets.

In his veto message to the Legislature, Baker said he used his veto to reduce the state university system’s funding to the level he had proposed in his original budget recommendation.

Though there is no timeline for the House to consider reversing any of the $162 million in vetoes, leaders have set aside two days next week for possible sessions before their planned August recess.

“We would hope that the Legislature would consider overriding the governor’s veto,” Connolly, the UMass spokesman, said in an email, “and that lawmakers would take note of the fact that we are beginning this fiscal year with an appropriation that is only 1.5 percent higher than what was appropriated for UMass for 2014-2015, which presents real challenges as we try to serve 73,000 students system-wide and position Massachusetts to compete and succeed in the global economy.”

Rep. Ellen Story, whose district includes the flagship UMass campus in Amherst, said she “will do (her) best” to fight for an override of the governor’s veto.

“I will be in Boston and I’m sure I will hear from people who are distressed about this,” she said Monday. “Every single legislator has constituents in his or her district that go to the university.”

Story said she heard from UMass faculty members over the weekend who were concerned about the governor’s veto and said she worries that the cut could place more of a burden on students and families.

“I think it is shortsighted on the governor’s part to take money away from the University of Massachusetts, our state university,” said Story, a floor division chair in Speaker Robert DeLeo’s leadership hierarchy. “It is one of the few places where Massachusetts residents can go, and afford to go, and get the skills that they need to be productive citizens of the Commonwealth.”

The Amherst Democrat added that almost 80 percent of UMass graduates continue to live and work in the Commonwealth after graduation, a rate that is higher than that at private institutions in the state, she said.

“Students who go to the University of Massachusetts are Massachusetts people and they stay here, they work here and pay taxes here,” she said. “It’s in our self interest as a state government to fund the university at the highest level that we can.”

Sen. Harriette Chandler, whose district includes UMass Medical School in Worcester, said she expects the veto will be discussed at Wednesday’s Senate leadership meeting and hopes both the House and Senate will consider overriding the governor’s veto.

“It doesn’t seem like the governor is really into education,” said Chandler, the Senate majority leader. “He did a lot of trimming and cutting; not huge, but a lot of trimming.”

Rep. Christopher Markey, whose district includes the campus of UMass-Dartmouth, said he has heard from some UMass officials about the veto and the possibility that the Legislature could attempt an override.

“When you look at public higher education, one of the concerns that I always have is that we have to make it affordable for people,” he said. “I’m always for trying to make those investments. I’m sure the governor wants to make those investments too, but he looks at bottom line (of the budget) and figures that out.”

Markey said Tuesday he had not discussed an override of the governor’s veto with his colleagues in the House, but would be interested in weighing whether it would be a realistic option.

“I think we need to look at the big picture. When you get to the overrides it’s a matter of what we’re financially able to do and what we’re politically able to do,” he said. “So it depends on really listening to the people and do we have the finances to be able to do it. Hopefully we will.”

The university system, which has five campuses, including the medical school in Worcester, has 73,000 students. The number of UMass graduates living and working in Massachusetts is pegged at 278,000.

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