UMass To Cut $11M From Budget After Legislature Omits Contract Funding

University of Massachusetts President Martin Meehan at WBUR in May (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
University of Massachusetts President Martin Meehan at WBUR in May (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

University of Massachusetts President Martin Meehan said Wednesday the five-campus system will have to make nearly $11 million in cuts after the Legislature passed a fiscal year 2015 close-out budget bill that did not include anticipated funding to cover retroactive pay increases for UMass faculty and staff unions.

Meehan said the university has already paid out the $10.9 million in collectively bargained raises, and he will meet with the chancellors of each UMass campus on Monday to figure out how the university system can make up for the shortfall.

"We will determine where to cut $11 million — approximately $5 million on the Amherst campus — and figure out how to deal with this cut," Meehan said. "It's always difficult when you get a cut that you didn't anticipate, particularly during the middle of the academic year."

In September, Meehan agreed to pay $10.9 million in retroactive pay denied to faculty and staff by his predecessor. At the time, he said he was confident, based on conversations with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, "the Legislature, in the supplemental budget, is going to attempt to get us the money to pay employees. We expect that our contracts will be honored in the supplemental budget."

The House approved the full $10.9 million in its version of the close-out bill, but the Senate did not include any funding for the UMass contracts in its version and it was not included in the final budget. When the Senate debated the bill on Oct. 8, Sen. Michael Moore offered an amendment that would have funded the full $10.9 million, but Moore's amendment was rejected without any debate.

Since taking over the UMass presidency in July, Meehan engaged in numerous conversations with Beacon Hill leaders about funding the pay raises that had previously been negotiated as part of a three-year contract with seven unions representing 6,500 workers funded in the supplemental budget bill.

On Wednesday, Meehan said he is uncertain why, despite what he thought were positive conversations with legislative leaders, the collective bargaining funding was not included in the supplemental budget.

"I'm puzzled and I'm disappointed. This hurts the University of Massachusetts," he said. "I'm not going to guess what happened. All I know is we have a crisis at the University of Massachusetts in dealing with $11 million in cuts. We'll meet with the chancellors and take whatever appropriate action we need to take."

Funding for the contracts emerged as a key component of the push by Gov. Charlie Baker and others on Beacon Hill to get Meehan to reconsider student tuition and fee hikes this academic year.

When asked earlier this month why the UMass funding was not included in the Senate's version of the supplemental budget, Sen. Karen Spilka, Senate Ways and Means Committee chair, said, "I think that there was some discussion about trying to get some of the student fees returned."

Meehan, in a September letter to Spilka and her House counterpart Rep. Brian Dempsey, said UMass would be willing to connect its fiscal 2016 funding to student fees in that fiscal year.

"Should the Legislature decided [sic] to appropriate an additional $21 million to cover the state's share of collective bargaining costs for FY16, the University of Massachusetts would also be able to credit back to students and their families fees associated with funding these obligations, just as the state universities have proposed," Meehan wrote.

An aide to Spilka said the senator was not available to comment Wednesday.

Meehan also expressed frustration Wednesday at the system whereby UMass's collectively bargained contracts are negotiated between the labor unions and the Executive Office of Administration and Finance, and then the university must rely on the Legislature to actually fund the negotiated contracts. The Patrick administration negotiated the contracts for which Meehan is seeking funding.

"I can't find another public university in the country that has this kind of system," he said.


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