Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

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July 4, 2013

Legislature sends Patrick $34B budget, midyear spending bill

(Continued)

“I take the House at their word,” Brewer said.

Republicans on Monday were also concerned that the budget relies on at least $500 million in new taxes that have yet to be finalized as legislators wait for Patrick to return transportation financing legislation with an amendment. The governor has suggested he might either call for tolls on the turnpike to remain up beyond 2017, or another small gas tax increase to go along with the immediate 3-cent increase called for in the tax bill.

Brewer said he would prefer to see the tolls remain and drivers on the turnpike pay for the upkeep and policing of the highway as opposed to asking drivers from all over the state to pay more through a gas tax increase.

In addition to questioning where the money came from to boost spending out of the conference committee, Jones said he had concerns about the process, including the level of involvement and negotiations between staff and Democratic leaders to the exclusion of the minority party representatives on the conference committee.

The budget includes significant spending increases for the University of Massachusetts and other public universities and colleges as legislative leaders looked to move the state toward funding 50 percent of higher education costs and to avoid tuition and fee increases the next two years.

Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland said the financial support in the fiscal 2014 budget for higher education would be enough not just for UMass, but also the other state universities and community colleges to freeze tuition and fees.

“We are thrilled that the legislature through its FY14 conference committee budget has seen fit to make a major investment in our system of public higher education,” Freeland said in a statement. “Everyone wins in a budget that allows campuses to avoid raising students’ fees, while also rewarding campuses for making progress in improving graduation rates and closing achievement gaps.”

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