Policy Update: May 25, 2012

Senate Budget Passes

Today, the Massachusetts Senate passed its version of the proposed Fiscal Year 2013 state budget 36-0. The Senate budget would provide $32.4 billion in spending (a $1.5 billion increase over last year). It includes no new taxes or fees, and a $275 million increase for local aid to cities and towns.

Below are some of items of greatest importance to the University included in the budget.

Financial Aid

The Senate would provide $87.6 million in funding for need-based student financial aid to Massachusetts students attending public or independent colleges in the state. This is the same level of funding that was provided in FY12. The House provided an identical amount in its budget. Thus, depending on the number of qualifying students, Northeastern is likely to receive approximately the same level of state funding as last year.

The Senate also provided $5 million for a new financial aid program directed at students attending public colleges and universities who are pursuing “in-demand” professions, as that term will be defined by a state labor workforce study. Unfortunately, an amendment to ensure that Massachusetts students attending independent colleges and universities in the Commonwealth would be eligible for such funds was rejected by voice vote. The proposed House budget did not include the new program.  

Finally, an amendment that would have created a new $1,000 annual tax deduction to incentivize participation in 529 college savings plans was not adopted. Unfortunately, because the amendment affected state revenues, it was ruled unconstitutional (because it did not originate in the House, as required by the Constitution). However, this is an issue that the state commission on state college scholarships is actively considering.

Massachusetts Promise Fellowship

State funding for the Massachusetts Service Alliance is vital to sustaining the Massachusetts Promise Fellowship community service program housed here at Northeastern. The Senate adopted an amendment to restore $250,000 in funding for the Mass Service Alliance. This matched the level provided in the House budget, and ensures that the Mass Service Alliance will be level-funded at $750,000.

House Economic Development Legislation Passes

On May 23rd, the Massachusetts House passed comprehensive economic development legislation that included two provisions that we have been advocating for the last several months. These provisions are (1) a new science and technology research matching grant program and (2) matching funds to place students in start-ups and early stage companies.

Specifically, the bill creates:

  • (1) a $50 million Innovation Investment Fund that will provide state matching grants to universities and other non-profit scientific research organizations for large-scale, long-term research and development activities determined to have the greatest potential to support scientific and technological innovation and stimulate economic and employment opportunities in the Commonwealth; and
  • (2) a $2.25 million Talent Pipeline Program, which will build connections between educated talent and in-state early stage companies by providing matching stipends to student-interns at technology and innovation start-ups and building connections to venture capital financing.

Also, during debate on the bill, an amendment was added to the Innovation Investment Fund that highlights the importance of projects in the areas of life sciences, IT, cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing. This language does not require that such projects be given priority; it will be up to the agency that administers the fund to make awards.

The bill now moves to the Senate. We will be working to urge Senators to pass the bill prior to the end of formal legislative sessions on July 31.