University leaders welcome House panel’s budget proposal

The House Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously April 10 to approve a $33.8 billion fiscal 2014 state budget plan that includes about $39 million in additional funding for the UMass system, a move that places the university on a path to a 50-50 funding formula and a freeze on tuition and fees.
 
The proposed spending plan, which increases UMass funding from $439.5 million to $478.7 million next year, drew praise from Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and President Robert Caret.
 
“Investing in public higher education brings extraordinary returns in an increasingly competitive, international marketplace,” said Subbaswamy. “This budget supports the vital need of ensuring a high-quality, affordable education for UMass students.”
 
“We are very pleased to see the House budget embrace our call for a 50-50 approach to funding core educational programs at the University of Massachusetts,” said Caret. “We hope it’s a sign that the Commonwealth is poised to become one of the few states in the nation bucking the trend of defunding public higher education.”
 
Currently, the state provides 43 percent of the cost to educate a student with students providing 57 percent. The university has proposed, under the leadership of Caret, that funding to reach the 50-50 formula could be phased in over a two-year period given the state’s fiscal challenges. In exchange, the Board of Trustees has pledged to approve a two-year freeze in tuition and fees. Part of the university’s success in managing costs is an ongoing efficiencies program that has yielded more than $100 million to date with additional savings expected.
 
Subbaswamy lauded the commitment of House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian Dempsey in making public higher education a top priority in this year’s budget. The chancellor also emphasized the importance of UMass Amherst’s core delegation in shaping the budget. “Ways and Means Vice Chairman Stephen Kulik and representatives Peter Kocot, John Scibak and Ellen Story have been outstanding advocates,” Subbaswamy said, “as have been our many alumni and other supporters in the House.”
 
The Ways and Means Committee’s plan also include $15 million in new funding for the nine-campus state university system and $29.75 million for the 15 community colleges. Several campus leaders indicated that the additional support will allow the schools to freeze tuition and fees at this year’s levels.
 
House debate on the Ways and Means proposal is set for April 22. Next month, the Senate will consider its budget proposal for the next fiscal ear, which begins July 1. A joint conference committee will draft a compromise spending package that must be approved by both chambers before a final version is sent to Gov. Deval Patrick. The governor can sign, veto or refer sections of the budget back to the Legislature.