Senate panel’s budget plan differs from 50-50 formula adopted by House

The Senate Ways and Means Committee is proposing a $33.92 billion fiscal 2014 state budget that calls for a $35 million increase for the public higher education system, about $75 million less than the amount included in the House budget and backed by Gov. Deval Patrick.
The Senate plan, which was unveiled May 15, includes $454.8 million for the UMass system, an increase of $16 million from this fiscal year. Last month, the House approved a budget package that calls for a $39 million boost for UMass, which President Robert Caret said puts funding on track towards the state providing 50 percent of the cost of educating a student. Currently, the state share is 43 percent.
Caret has proposed phasing in the 50-50 formula over a two-year period to ease the burden on state finances. In exchange, the Board of Trustees has pledged to approve a two-year freeze in tuition and fees.
As the Senate budget proposal was released, Caret and Henry M. Thomas III, chairman of the Board of Trustees, issued statements calling on the Senate to increase funding to the level favored by the governor and the House.
“We have a historic opportunity to strike a blow for quality and affordability and to position Massachusetts as a national leader in the critical area of support for its public university,” Caret said. “We are not overlooking the action the Senate Ways and Means Committee has taken and appreciate the committee’s confidence and support. But we feel we are at the brink of a defining moment, and our zeal for the University and its students compels us to drive forward.”
Thomas said, “On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I am urging the Senate to approve a budget amendment that would provide the funding needed to ensure quality and provide students and their families with significant financial relief. We appreciate the effort that has been made but hope the Senate can extend itself just a little further in the interest of seizing this auspicious moment and opportunity.”
Senate Majority Leader Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) told news outlets that he will support efforts to boost funding for UMass to the level sought by Caret.
The Senate is expected to begin debating the budget next week.