As we enter the frenzied four-month legislative dash to the end of formal sessions on July 31, there are a number of high profile issues still pending before the Legislature. The most high profile will be the Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15) budget, which the House will take up in late April and May. The Legislature is also expected to consider measures dealing with increasing the minimum wage, revamping the unemployment insurance index, election laws, welfare reform, and the drug compounding industry.
In March, the Legislature faced a deadline of taking initial action on all bills filed this session. As in past sessions, the vast majority of the more than 6,000 filed bills were sent to a legislative study, which essentially halts any movement of the bill for the remainder of the session. A relatively small number of bills were sent out of committee with a favorable recommendation, allowing legislators and advocates to continue working the bills through the legislative process for the remainder of the session.
AICUM has been working on a number of bills this session and is pleased to report that the Joint Committee on Higher Education took favorable action on our program approval legislation, which seeks to amend the academic program approval process faced by many of our institutions. The committee voted to give a favorable recommendation to Senate Bill 575 and House Bill 1076, filed by Senator Gale Candaras and Representative Alice Peisch, which has since been advanced to the House Committee on Ways and Means.
In addition, AICUM is pleased that the legislative committees agreed not to take action on a number of bills that would have had an adverse impact on independent higher education in Massachusetts, including bills that: targeted the tax-exempt status of certain non-profit organizations; imposed extensive financial disclosure requirements for private colleges and universities far exceeding what is required for other non-profit organizations; and impacted research or diluted protections under the Dover amendment.
Finally, AICUM continues to engage with the Legislature as it begins deliberations of the FY15 budget in advance of the new fiscal year in July. Last year, the Legislature provided an additional $3 million for programs that fund need-based aid for Massachusetts residents attending college in the Commonwealth. While this was an important step forward, funding for need-based aid remains below its pre-recession levels and Massachusetts trails almost every state in the average need-based award. We are hopeful that the Legislature will continue the momentum from last year and provide additional investments in the FY15 budget that is critical to the future success of college students.
The Massachusetts Legislature reconvened on January 2nd for the start of the last half of its two-year legislative session, seeking to build upon the work started in 2013. The legislative calendar promises to be busy between now and July 31st, as the Legislature races to develop its FY15 budget and complete its assessment of the more than 6,000 bills filed this session. In addition, the run up to July 31st marks the final stretch of Governor Patrick’s administration and his last chance to significantly influence the legislative agenda from the corner office.
As we move forward in 2014, it is important to look back to see what was accomplished in 2013 and what remains in the legislative pipeline that may have an impact on higher education in Massachusetts. The first year of the session saw a showdown over tax increases (eventually limited to increases in the sales and gas tax), a focus on fixing the state’s public transit and transportation infrastructure and the completion of the state budget for FY14. In addition, a number of legislative priorities, including welfare reform and an increase to the minimum wage, have advanced through one or both chambers, but have yet to achieve final passage as negotiations between the House and Senate continue. We expect to see action on most, if not all, of these items in the next six months.
The FY14 budget process started off with Governor Patrick asking for a transformational increase to the need-based financial aid scholarship line-item. The Governor proposed to pay for this,
In addition to our commitment to financial aid, AICUM’s other top legislative priority this session is the passage of our program approval legislation (S.575 and H1076), which has been championed by Senator Gale Candaras and Representative Alice Peisch. Our legislation seeks to extend the existing exemption for pre-1943 colleges to all independent colleges and universities who currently must seek approval from the Board of Higher Education before offering new academic programs on campus. Currently, 40 out of 60 AICUM member institutions must go before the Board for approval of each new program simply because the school was founded, or changed its charter, after 1943.
Through our legislation, AICUM is seeking to align Massachusetts with 45 other states that have no – or virtually no – approval oversight of academic programs at independent colleges and universities. AICUM’s President Richard Doherty, along with 3 college presidents and 3 academic provosts, offered testimony before the Joint Committee on Higher Education on June 6th, outlining the rational for our legislation. AICUM continues to work with the Committee, legislative leadership, and the Department of Higher Education to seek an equitable and long-lasting resolution to this situation.
June 6, 2013. AICUM president and college presidents testify before the Joint Committee on Higher Education–in support of Senate Bill 575 and House Bill 1076.
AICUM is also advocating for legislation that would create a tax incentive for Massachusetts families to set aside money for future college expenses. This legislation, S.1338, filed by former Senator Jack Hart, would establish a tax deduction for families that contribute to the Massachusetts-sponsored 529 Plan, which allows funds to grow tax-free if they are spent on higher education expenses. If approved, Massachusetts would join over 30 other states that currently offer tax incentives to encourage families to set aside money early for pay for college and related expenses.
In May, AICUM provided testimony to the Joint Committee on Revenue in support of this legislation and a number of other bills seeking to establish mechanisms to encourage college savings. AICUM has also encouraged a legislative sub-committee looking at the issue of student debt to consider the 529 Plan tax incentive legislation as one means of helping Massachusetts students and families better control student debt.
In addition to the above mentioned legislative priorities, AICUM also offered testimony on a number of bills that would directly impact independent higher education, including efforts to eliminate the tax-exemption afforded to non-profits organizations, undermine zoning protections afforded educational and religious institutions under the Dover Amendment, classify on-campus police reports as public records, and impose an arbitrary cap on the compensation non-profits can pay its senior executives. Each of these bills would have an adverse impact on higher education and would undermine the ability of AICUM member institutions to best serve their students and employees.
All of these issues remain in play as we move into the 2014 session, and AICUM will continue to be actively engaged on all of them.We look forward to continuing our advocacy in support of higher education, our members, and the students and families they serve.