House committee’s 2011 higher education budget would slash UM funding

By Sam Butterfield

The Massachusetts House Ways and Means Committee released its recommended state budget for fiscal year 2011 Thursday, and the University of Massachusetts could stand to take a big hit.

In a tough economic climate with once plentiful federal stimulus funds rapidly drying up, the House budget recommendation would slash funding to UMass by some $45 million next year. The proposal comes some two-and-a-half months after Gov. Deval Patrick proposed a total budget of $500,590,365 for the five-campus University system, which he said in a Jan. 27 release “reflects the simple notion that we must continue moving forward.”

Patrick’s budget proposal included $451,272,589 in state funds and $49,317,776 in federal stimulus funds for the five-campus system. With Patrick’s plan, UMass would have received $229.1 million in state subsidies, including an additional $24.4 million in stimulus money, according to a Wednesday press release from UMass’ Office of News and Media Relations. The governor’s recommendation would also have sent a $3.6 million funding line to the Commonwealth Honors College, which the Committee rejected.

Thursday’s Ways and Means Committee budget would deliver $190.9 million to the Amherst campus, an actual increase from FY2010 in state funding of about $19 million. However, if the Committee’s budget proposal is to pass the chambers of Beacon Hill, UMass’ share of federal stimulus revenue next year would fall to $5.3 million, a decrease of $67.6 million. Though the increase in state funding provides fringe benefit costs of about $3.8 million, the cut in stimulus funds would place overall net at a loss of $44.8 million next year.

The Committee’s overall budget recommendation for the Commonwealth next year is $27.8 billion, a 3.2 percent increase from 2010. That figure, though, draws on an estimated $1.5 billion in one-time stimulus dollars.

The House is expected to take up debate on the proposal April 26, with the Senate slated to address the budget later in May. A final budget must be ratified by July 1, the start of fiscal year 2011.

In a statement addressed to the Campus Community Thursday, Chancellor Robert Holub said the proposal represents Mass. legislators wrestling with tough decisions in a dire fiscal climate.

“The Commonwealth is grappling with a major budget shortfall, and legislators must make difficult choices,” said Holub.

Rather than lament the announcement of the proposed cuts as a reflection of a downward trend in educational financing, Holub used the release of the budget details as an opportunity to reemphasize the need for continued support of public higher education in Massachusetts.

“We believe, however, that investment in public higher education provides the best path for creating a prosperous and sustainable future for the citizens of Massachusetts,” he said. “We must redouble our efforts to make that case in the coming weeks as the House membership and later the Senate determine spending priorities.”

Holub said he was in Boston Wednesday working with lawmakers to develop strategies to avert potential funding cuts and would be making trips to the gold-domed State House throughout the crucial spring legislative period leading up to ratification of the final budget.

“To that end, I was in the State House yesterday, meeting with lawmakers and legislative staff, working to deter the severe cuts proposed in the House,” the Chancellor stated. “In this vitally important period, I urge faculty, staff, students and alumni to contact their legislators and make it known that UMass needs and deserves their support.”

Holub asked concerned campus community members to stay informed on developments as they become available, and said his administration would remain transparent about its efforts to combat budget cuts throughout the decisive budgetary process.

“Further details on budget developments will be available on the ‘In the Loop website (umass.edu/loop),” Holub said. “Much remains to be determined in Boston, so please stay informed and play your part in the coming debate,” he concluded.

Holub’s calls for advocacy are a far cry from the tone University administration struck in late January upon news of the Governor’s proposal.

Back then, University system spokesman Robert Connolly said in a release that system president Jack M. Wilson found “hope and opportunity” in Gov. Patrick’s recommendation, adding that the Patrick proposal is “a strong expression of support for the UMass system and provides hope and opportunity for students all across the Commonwealth.”

Sam Butterfield can be reached at [email protected]