Beacon Hill Lawmakers Look At What It Means To 'Invest' In Education

Apr 29, 2019

When it comes to higher education in Massachusetts, lawmakers consider splitting the bill. Or maybe they'll at least leave a tip?

In our quick look at the week ahead in politics and government in Massachusetts, the Joint Committee on Higher Education will focus on a stack of bills related to investing in higher education and making it more affordable. Craig Sandler of the State House News Services join us.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: There's a saying that college education is a ticket to the middle class. Just how much investment are lawmakers really going to be talking about?

Craig Sandler, State House News Service: Well, I think that it's primarily a budget issue. We just saw the House pass a budget in which activists were hoping that the amount originally appropriated in the House budget would be increased by $10 million, so that UMass could freeze tuition and fees.

And that didn't happen.

Every day, we get a new headline about the crisis that students are facing. The higher education committee basically has to interpret calls nationally for free college education.

That's not going to happen in Massachusetts. It's going to be solved at the national level.

I think that typically in a committee like this, you have bills like Senator Comerford's $500 million increase in funding. And it sounds good. But you look up — and for example, we've been talking since 2015 about placing an additional billion dollars into K-12 education.

These bills are good proposals. But do I realistically think there's going to be higher education committee hearing, and a bill for an additional $500 million in state funding for education is going to start advancing? No, I definitely do not.

Last week, the House Ways and Means budget debate happened. Well, we presume it happened, because most of it was in private. The week ended with the budget passing 154-1. Rep. Russell Holmes, a Mattapan Democrat, cast that lone dissenting vote. Do you get any sense as to why he opposed the House budget?

Sure — I think mainly, that's a symbolic vote. And the important question is, what exactly does it symbolize? He had some specifics that I won't go into about legislative compensation. But more generally, Holmes is one of the few dissenting voices about the process of the House.

The budget, over the last 20 years, has become, basically, a secret exercise.

I am very eager to talk with Lindsay Sabadosa coming out of this process, because this was the first time she saw how the budget is actually done up here. And the way that it's done is Ways and Means comes out with its budget; the topics are grouped into giant stacks; and you go off in a side room, you talk a little bit about why you think your amendment has merit; and then Ways and Means, and the staff in the Speaker's office, decides whether it's going to be included in the final product.

The only significant debate we heard this week was on the governor's proposal on prescription drug prices, and whether lobsters can be broken up into parts and processed. That was it. The rest of the process was entirely secret.

We have seen some activist representatives arrive in the House, like Rep. Sabadosa. We didn't see them kicking up a fuss in this process. Only Holmes took that sort of stand. But it'll be interesting to see whether we see more of that.

Paul Craney of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance was critical of that closed door process. He recalled, "In the old days, people used to complain about legislators treating the Statehouse more like a frat house during budget week. Now we can't really tell they're in there." Are we supposed to see that happen again in the Senate next month?

No, you're not getting any craziness in the Senate. What the Senate is interested in is how April revenues perform, because we're to get that report this week. That's going to set the stage for any spending that they want to do.

Who knows whether there'll be reindeer games played about, "Oh this is actually a money bill, therefore before we can tax."

In the context of the fact that Senate President Spilka just set up that panel to look at revenues top to bottom — that's not as likely as it normally would be, but it could still happen. And if revenues are really bad in April, the Senate is going to have some adjusting to do.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.