Legislature passes budget that increases funding for higher education

The Legislature passed the fiscal 2014 state budget on July 1, sending it to Governor Deval Patrick on the first day of the new fiscal year.

The budget conference committee report, a compromise between the House and Senate, was debated in both branches but could not be amended. The budget passed the House 122-29 and the Senate 36-3. The governor has until July 12 to either sign the budget, veto it or propose amendments to certain sections.

The $34 billion budget relies on revenue increases passed as part of a transportation bill that was approved on June 26 and is now on the governor’s desk. Patrick has said he will return that bill to the Legislature by July 6 with a proposed amendment that would raise additional revenues.

The conference committee’s report contains significant increases in higher education funding. Those increases were proposed by both the governor and the House and agreed to by the Senate in the conference committee. Funding for the University of Massachusetts, the state universities and the community colleges is increased by nearly $95 million, a 10 percent increase over fiscal 2013. The additional funding is expected to allow campuses to freeze tuition and fees, helping students hold down debt.

MTA members urged legislators to support the higher funding amount for public colleges and universities, and the work paid off. The MTA thanked the co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, Senator Michael Moore (D-Millbury) and Representative Tom Sannicandro (D-Ashland), for their strong advocacy and their legislative leadership on behalf of public higher education.

The budget also contained language establishing a Special Commission on Higher Education Quality, Efficiencies and Finance, which the MTA supported and helped to improve. The MTA has one seat on the commission. The MTA will also be a member of a new special commission established in the budget to study early education and care services.

An effort to revive the Foundation Budget Review Commission, which had been adopted unanimously in the Senate, was not included in the conference committee’s report. That bill has been filed separately as Senate Bill 207 and House Bill 457, and it remains a top MTA legislative priority.

For additional analysis of the FY14 budget passed by the Legislature on July 1, visit the Mass Budget and Policy Center.