Legislature cuts UMass by $80.5m
by Daniel J. Fitzgibbons,
n already grim budget situation took a turn for the worse June 13
as legislators approved a conference committee proposal that cuts
funding for the University system by 18.5 percent or $80.5 million.
The $22.3 billion fiscal
2004 state budget package passed easily, with the House voting 118-37
in favor of the measure and the Senate approving the plan by a vote
of 32-6. The budget is now before Gov. Mitt Romney, who has 10 days
to sign the budget, issue vetoes or suggest changes.
If Romney leaves the
UMass funding intact, the maintenance appropriation for the five-campus
system will drop from $436,276,144 to $355,764,464, which includes
an estimated $28 million in tuition paid by out-of-state students
that the Amherst campus will be allowed to retain as part of a two-year
pilot program. Under the experimental program, the state will bear
the fringe benefit costs for employees paid from the funds during
The legislative budget
level-funds Commonwealth College at $1.715 million but contains
no funding for the endowed chair matching fund incentive program
or library acquisitions.
Funding for the state
scholarship program was reduced $9.2 million to $82.4 million and
the earmark for the UMass system for needs-based financial aid reduced
by $1 million to $8.6 million.
Lawmakers also approved
an early retirement incentive allowing state employees to add five
years to their age or years of service to qualify for higher pension
benefits. The program will include employees paid from federal,
trust and capital funds.
The application window
is July 15 to Sept. 1 with a Dec. 31 retirement date for higher
education employees. The measure allows the University president
or chancellor of the Board of Higher Education to identify job titles
which could elect to retire as early as Aug. 29.
The measure calls for
a refill cap of 20 percent for state-funded positions and the cap
does not apply to positions funded from federal, trust or capital
Payments for accrued
sick leave and vacation time would be made in four equal payments
during the next four years.
Finally, the Legislature
approved a tiered system of health insurance premiums for state
employees, with workers earning less than $35,000 continuing to
pay 15 percent. Employees earning $35,000 and up will now pay 20
percent and new employees hired after July 1 will pay 25 percent.
New retirees will pay 15 percent.