Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Ellen Story runs for re-election

Democrat Ellen Story has represented the Amherst and Granby area in the state House of Representatives since 1992 and is running for re-election. Her opponents are Republican Dan Sandell, a lawyer, and Independent Dan Melick.

“My top priority is money for the University [of Massachusetts] and that is a tough sell, even in good financial years,” Story said. “My background is in public higher education. My father was a professor. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a professor. My brother is a professor and his wife is a professor. And they were all at public universities.”

She said that Massachusetts has a poor history of supporting public higher education. “I’m not sure why that’s true,” she added. “Most of the state lives in the eastern part, not in western Massachusetts. Most of the legislators have never been to Amherst and most of them have not gone to public schools. We have a history of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

According to Story, when Michael Dukakis was governor he questioned the need for a public university, because Massachusetts already had Harvard and MIT. “I still can’t believe those words came out of his lips,” Story said.

She compared the way the University of Massachusetts has been treated by the state government to the University of Texas, where she did her undergraduate work and the University of Wisconsin, where she attended graduate school.

“In Texas and Wisconsin the University is prized,” Story said. “It’s a jewel of the state and most of the legislature went there. They’re very protective of the University. They would never have cut the University’s budget the way that our state legislature has cut the budge for this [the Amherst] campus.”

She continued, “When I talk about the University, I really mean the Amherst campus. I continue to think that the idea of a five campus system was a bad idea.”

Story said that originally, there was the Massachusetts Agricultural College, which became UMass Amherst, then a commuter school was built—UMass Boston—and the medical school in Worcester, followed by campuses in Dartmouth and Lowell. She said that the intent was, with more of the state covered, more legislators would support the University’s budget instead of just the Amherst state senator and representative. However, the process ended up being competitive, with each campus trying to get budget increases at the expense of the others.

“Amherst has often been short-changed, mostly by the president’s office,” Story said. “I sometimes entertain thoughts about how nice it would be if the Amherst campus were to secede to have its own board of trustees and be in charge of its own budget.”

She said that she was opposed to the recent acquisition of a law school because it’s located in Dartmouth. “I do think that [we need a public law school] and I think we should have had one when we got the medical school. I think that would have made a big difference.”

“We’re saying that it’s not going to cost the state anything to have a law school and I find that preposterous,” she said. “It is definitely going to have costs that’ll come from the University budget and that will come from the Amherst campus, I fear.”

Story said that the legislature passed a bill in the spring renaming the state colleges, state universities. That bill, H 48610, was signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick on July 28. The commissioner of the Department of Higher Education, Richard Freeland, said in a press release at the time that the name change was a reward.

“The proponents of that also said it would not cost any money,” Story said. “I think it’s highly unlikely that it will not cost any money. If I were a professor at Fitchburg [State] University, I would say ‘Now that we’re a university my salary needs to be higher.’ So I expect there will be greater costs coming in the years to come. There’s not enough money to go around as it is and this campus has been slashed repeatedly.”

Public higher education has not been the only area with large cutbacks. The state’s non-discretionary funding— things like pensions and interest payments which cannot be cut from the budget— has seen a continued rise while discretionary funding such as the education budget and basic human services must suffer cutbacks, even though, according to Story, the need for those services increases in bad economic times.

“My solution is a very unpopular one,” she said. “Especially with legislators, we need to raise taxes. You can’t assume that services are going to be there if you’re cutting taxes all the time. During the last 16 years, when we had Republican governors and we had more money, we cut taxes over forty times and we can’t afford to cut them that much.”

Story said she opposes Question One, which would remove the sales tax from alcohol, the proceeds of which she said go to substance-abuse recovery programs and Question Three, which would reduce the sales tax back to 3 percent.

Matt Robare can be reached at [email protected].

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