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An agreement between the University of Massachusetts and the Senate to pave the way for the state to pay for university contracts could be too little too late after House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Wednesday stamped a giant caution mark on the plan.
Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said he planned to push for inclusion of $10.9 million for the University of Massachusetts in a future spending bill after university officials committed to using $5 million for financial aid for high-needs students if the funds are approved.
Rosenberg's announcement came days after Gov. Charlie Baker signed a $326 million supplemental budget largely intended to close out spending for fiscal year 2015, which ended in June. The House included a $10.9 million item in that budget to pay for employee contracts at UMass, but it was dropped during negotiations with Senate leaders.
Though just days have elapsed since the House and Senate voted to send to Baker's desk the spending bill without the UMass contract funding, DeLeo told reporters, "It's a different time now than it was when we did it."
"We now have to realize it's not as easy as it once was in the sense that when we did it last time we were in a different fiscal year, a fiscal year in which we knew how much money we had, overage and whatnot for the fiscal year, and we knew that we could afford it. Now as we have gone into a new fiscal year it's questionable," DeLeo said after a caucus with House Democrats.
UMass President Marty Meehan also plans to privately raise $5 million for additional scholarship aid for UMass students, including at least $1.5 million toward that goal in conjunction with his inauguration next week.
"We were appreciative when the House approved $10.9 million in collective-bargaining funding for UMass and appreciate the Senate President's expressed intent to seek the funding. The funding we receive from the state is critical to our ability to attract and retain the faculty and staff who have built UMass into a world-class research university," UMass spokesman Robert Connolly said in a statement.
Connolly stressed that $5 million in additional need-based financial aid out of the university's budget was contingent upon receiving the contract funding from the Legislature, not just the Senate president's support.
Rosenberg said, "The university will have to determine the design of the program and the timing of the program but it's intended to help the kids during this academic year, but the next supplemental budget we don't know when the governor will file it, but I'm committed to working with Ways and Means here to move it in that supplemental."
Meehan agreed to fund the contracts before the money from the state was dropped from the budget bill, and he said last week he planned to talk to other university officials about possible budget cuts, including $5 million from the UMass Amherst campus. Rosenberg said Meehan had not committed to forestall campus cuts as he waits to see if the Legislature follows through with contract funding.
UMass raised tuition and student fees for this academic year and some lawmakers have been trying to pressure university officials to walk back some of those higher student costs in exchange for additional state funding. Both Rosenberg and Senate Ways and Means Chairman Karen Spilka have said the exclusion of the contract funding from the budget bill had to do with the Senate's desire to see UMass use some of the money to relieve financial pressure from student, as other state universities did in exchange for collective bargaing support from the state.
DeLeo said he had not been privy to the conversation between Rosenberg and Meehan prior to a phone message that had been left for him Tuesday night, and he only read the details of the supposed agreement in news reports Wednesday morning.
Furthermore, the speaker said he did not know why the Senate pushed back against including the retroactive contract funding in the budget that Baker signed on Monday.
"There's no doubt I want to do it, I want to get it done, but now we're into a new fiscal year and quite frankly I'd have to check with the chair of Ways and Means, (Administration and Finance) Secretary (Kristen) Lepore and the governor to make sure the finances are there," DeLeo said, describing the current fiscal 2016 budget as being "a little tighter than we had hoped."
Baker told reporters Wednesday morning he expected continued support for UMass on Beacon Hill and said he didn't know why the $10.9 million was dropped from the spending bill he signed on Monday.
"I was not privy to the conversations that took place between the House and the Senate and the president about that particular question," the governor said.
While budgeting is a year-round exercise on Beacon Hill, with supplemental budgets passing throughout the year in addition to the annual state budget, Baker said, "We haven't even started talking about the next supp yet, we just finished closing the year that we just finished." The next supplemental budget may not emerge until sometime after the new year begins, he said.
In the face of underperforming non-tax revenues and exposures that have cropped up on the spending side, Baker continues to review the current fiscal 2016 budget, which may need midyear corrective fixes. "We'll have more to say about that when we finish the review. But it's going to be a tight year," Baker said.
This article was originally published on November 04, 2015.
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