MA House Releases Budget, Includes Boost to Higher Ed

Lawmakers in the Massachusetts House released a budget proposal which would increase state spending by 3.9 percent. The package would allow the UMass system to freeze tuition and fees at this year’s rates.

The House Ways and Means Committee’s proposal would boost state spending to 33.8 billion dollars, relying on new gas, tobacco, and business taxes – and some one-time funds, plus anticipated casino revenues.

Committee chairman Brian Dempsey says lawmakers focused on more funding for higher education and for Chapter 70 aid to public schools.

“This is the most significant investment in higher ed in a number of years. The challenge for us has been, as we know, to stay focused on our commitment to chapter 70.”

School aid would rise by almost 110 million dollars, while the UMass system would get a 26 million dollar boost. That’s enough, UMass officials say, to prevent an increase in next year’s tuition and fees.

Robert Caret is president of the UMass system. He says the proposal is a relief – given an earlier decision by the House to raise only a quarter of the nearly 2 billion dollar tax hike Governor Deval Patrick proposed.

“We didn’t know until it was released what they had finally done, so we are obviously very pleased with the outcome. But to say we weren’t nervous would not be true we definitely were very nervous.”

There are hurdles ahead. Patrick is at odds with legislative leaders, and has threatened to veto their tax package because it does not boost revenues enough. But he is now offering specifics about compromise. The Senate has scheduled an unusual Saturday session to vote on its version of the tax package before school break.