The House Ways and Means budget, released on April 10, would increase funding for public higher education by $110 million, the same amount proposed by Governor Patrick. This would be the largest increase to campus operating budgets in many years. The increase to UMass would be enough, over two years, to get to “50-50” — where the state pays at least as much of the campus costs as are paid by students and their families. The UMass Trustees had previously pledged to freeze fees at this year’s amounts for two years if this level of funding was obtained, and House Speaker DeLeo cited that as a specific goal of this budget.
The budget also calls for very significant increases to the community college and state university campuses. For higher education, the big shortcoming in this budget is that it level funds financial aid, at a time when student debt has become an explosive national issue, PHENOM will work with legislators to introduce an amendment to increase need-based financial aid, and will keep our members informed of actions they can take in support of it.
The budget also proposes a 10-member commission to review the financing model for higher education and to determine funding levels in the future. It would make sense for PHENOM to be represented on this commission.
The budget does not propose any tax increases, and relies primarily on one-time funds, gambling revenues, and projected increases in revenues generated by the current tax structure. PHENOM continues to support the Act to Invest in Our Communities which would raise additional revenue through progressive tax reform. Massachusetts has had a structural fiscal deficit for a long time; education, transportation, human services, and other areas of state government continue to be under-funded, and we need additional revenues.
But, despite these shortcomings, this is a budget proposal to celebrate. Thousands of students, staff and faculty around the state have participated in advocacy efforts over the past few months – including the giant Day of Advocacy in March. If we ever had any doubts as to the effectiveness of those efforts, they should be put aside. Thanks to all who helped!