September 12, 2014
By Rob McCarron, Vice President of Government Relations & General Counsel
On July 31st, the Legislature wrapped up formal sessions for the 2013-2014 Legislative session. As is typical at the close of a legislative session, the Legislature was very active through the end of July, advancing a number of high profile bills to Governor Patrick’s desk, including bills increasing the minimum wage and implementing changes in unemployment insurance; revising welfare rules; toughening domestic violence laws; overhauling the state’s guns laws; and, implementing a range of economic development and job growth strategies.
In staying true to a key part of AICUM’s legislative mission, we primarily focused on legislation that enhances opportunities for Massachusetts students to attend a college or university here in the Commonwealth. Each year, AICUM commits to advocating for additional funding for need-based financial aid programs, including the MassGrant and Gilbert Matching Grant programs. We were pleased that the Legislature invested an additional $3 million in these important programs – bringing the total funding in FY15 to $96.7 million. Each dollar invested in need-based financial aid will positively impact thousands of students studying in Massachusetts each year, helping them remain in college and earn their degree on time and with less debt.
Last Fall, the Joint Committee on Higher Education created a Subcommittee on Student Loans and Debt, and tasked it with developing recommendations to ensure that higher education remains accessible and affordable for Massachusetts families. AICUM and several of our college presidents and administrators testified before the Subcommittee. We also worked with the Subcommittee and staff as they developed findings and recommendations. The final report included a number of key proposals, including:
- To expand student grant aid by increasing funding for the MassGrant Scholarship fund;
- To give families an incentive to save for college by creating a tax deduction for contributions made to the Commonwealth’s 529 College Savings Plan; and
- To develop more comprehensive loan forgiveness programs for “in-demand” jobs
Throughout the session, AICUM worked on a number of bills that would have adversely impacted our members, including attempts to challenge the tax-exempt status of certain non-profits, undermine zoning protections afforded colleges and other non-profits under the Dover amendment, and impose new regulations that would prove costly and overly burdensome to both public and private colleges and universities. AICUM offered testimony and advocated against such proposals with legislative officials. We were pleased that these proposals did not advance this session.
With this week’s primary behind us, and the November elections just eight weeks away, we are already preparing for the 2015-16 legislative session. We expect to again face many of the same issues and we look forward to supporting many of the recommendations put forth by the Subcommittee on Student Loans and Debt.