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Greetings all,

Stand by, to stand by!

Your tax-refund will get to you quicker than our Retro-Money will...

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Senate expected to pass higher ed bill
Tuesday, February 15, 2005

By DAN RING

[email protected]

BOSTON - About 13,000 employees of state colleges and universities would receive retroactive pay raises under a bill that could receive final approval today by legislators on Beacon Hill.

A $119 million bill includes about $28 million for six months of retroactive pay increases for higher education employees, $33 million for snow and ice removal for state highways and $7.5 million to help pay for heating bills of low income elderly and families.

The bill also contains $9.5 million to help pay for raises of between 2 percent and 2.5 percent for "direct-care workers" who earn $40,000 a year and less. The employees work for private, nonprofit human-service agencies that contract with the state for helping people such as the mentally ill and mentally retarded.

The budget also includes about $12 million in additional pay for private attorneys who represent indigent clients and $9.5 million for workers caring for the mentally ill and the mentally retarded.

The House Ways and Means Committee approved the $119 million bill yesterday. The bill is expected to be passed today by the full House and Senate, said the chairman of House Ways and Means, Rep. Robert A DeLeo, D-Winthrop.

Gov. W. Mitt Romney vetoed the retroactive pay raises for higher education employees when the money reached his desk in a separate spending bill last fall. Romney, however, is leaving open the possibility that he will sign the raises this year.

"We're happy to look at anything that reaches our desk," said a spokeswoman for the governor, Laura L. Nicoll.

When he vetoed the retroactive raises in September, Romney cited the Legislature's refusal to approve his bill to lower the state's 5.3 percent income tax to 5 percent.

DeLeo and Sen. Michael R. Knapik, R-Westfield, said yesterday the higher education employees deserve raises they obtained in a signed contract.

"It's the right thing to do," said Knapik, the ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee. "Better late than never."

If Romney vetoes the money, legislators have the votes for a successful override, DeLeo and Knapik said. A two-thirds' vote is needed in each branch to override a veto. Under the bill unveiled yesterday by House Ways and Means, about $28 million would be for six months of retroactive raises for employees of state and community colleges and university campuses. Another $3.78 million would be for 1 percent pay raises for faculty and professional staff at the state's community colleges.

The administration of former acting Gov. Jane M. Swift negotiated the three-year contract in 2001 with employees of higher education. When the state fell into a fiscal crisis, the contracts were left unfunded.

In November 2003, Romney approved about $34 million for the higher education pay raises to go into effect Jan. 1 of last year. In this year's state budget, Romney approved about $70 million to pay for the raises for this fiscal year.

Donna M. Johnson, president of the University Staff Association, a union of about 900 clerical and technical workers at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said yesterday that employees would spend the retroactive raises mostly on basic needs.

"It's going to go back into the economic growth of this commonwealth," she said.

Even if Romney signs the retroactive raises, employees would still be owed another year of retroactive raises, totaling about $56 million.

"A deal is a deal," Johnson said. "The bottom line is, they signed a contract with us. They are balancing the budget on our backs."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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anybody hear what the current situation is... is the bill on the Gov's desk now? Finally, a step in the right direction after all this time.
 
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