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Romney Unveils Capital Budget, Major Focus on Higher Ed

Location: Boston, MA

Announces plan to use operating surplus to supplement $1.28 billion capital program

Governor Mitt Romney today unveiled the capital budget for the 2006 fiscal year, and said he plans to file a spending bill to dip into the operating surplus to supplement it with an ambitious $400 million capital investment program for higher education.

Romney also said he would use surplus funds to direct another $100 million into Chapter 90 local transportation projects, nearly doubling the amount of money available to cities and towns for road and bridge repair. The fiscal 2006 year began on July 1, 2005.

Romney made the announcement during visits to the Boston campus of the University of Massachusetts and Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester.

"This is a huge shot in the arm for our public colleges and universities," said Romney. "By targeting these resources to construct new facilities and upgrade existing ones, we can put our higher education system in a position to deliver the first class facilities that our students deserve."

Over the past 10 years, state bond funding for public higher education capital improvements has averaged $67 million per year. This level of spending has not been sufficient to permit major renovations and new building initiatives at public colleges and universities to advance as quickly as they should.

Because capital spending is capped at $1.28 billion annually, Romney's use of the operating surplus for capital needs drastically increases the amount of money available to public colleges and universities. In the ordinary capital budget for Fiscal Year 2006, the higher education system is slated to receive $54 million in bond funding.

By increasing the amount of money available to public colleges and universities for construction, Romney would enable higher education institutions to aggressively reduce maintenance backlogs while undertaking major new facility construction at the same time.

Under Romney's spending bill, which requires legislative approval, the five-campus 60,000-student UMASS system would receive more than $200 million for new science centers and to restore outdated infrastructure that is critical to student life. If funding is approved, construction on many of these projects could begin within the next year.

Targeted funding for new construction at UMASS campuses includes:

* $21 million to build a nanotechnology center at UMASS-Lowell;
* $20 million for an integrated science building at UMASS-Amherst;
* $13 million to acquire the Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Center for UMASS-Dartmouth; and
* $30 million for a faculty office building at UMASS Medical School in Worcester.

Improvements to existing infrastructure within the UMASS system are a key component of the Romney plan. Earlier this year Romney announced he would dedicate $40 million to help rebuild the crumbling central foundation and parking garage at UMASS-Boston. Given the extent of the work required, however, the Governor today increased his commitment by $10 million, making up to $50 million available for UMASS-Boston to complete the complex reconstruction.

Further improvements to the UMASS system include $60 million for the Amherst campus to rebuild the central heating facility and $8.5 million for UMASS-Dartmouth to construct a new facilities building that will free up academic space.

"It is clearly the case that our capital needs have not been adequately addressed in the past, and Governor Romney's proposal will literally and figuratively alter the University's landscape and put us on the road to providing the facilities we need to be a world-class university," said University of Massachusetts president Jack M. Wilson. "Governor Romney's proposal rightly matches the repair of existing facilities with the creation of new buildings that will allow the University to advance its science and technology efforts, and in the process expand the Commonwealth's intellectual and economic frontiers."

Wilson added: "This has been a year of great progress for the University of Massachusetts, and I thank Governor Romney and the Legislature for investing in UMass, and in so doing, investing in the Commonwealth's social and economic future."

Romney also envisions $211 million in capital improvements at the community college and state college level. These include:

* $60 million for the Conant Life Science Building at Bridgewater State College;
* $20 million for fire safety and accessibility upgrades for dormitories across the public higher education system;
* $10 million for the Allied Health Building at North Shore Community College;
* $15 million for an academic building at Northern Essex Community College;
* $10 million to renovate the Hemenway Hall science facility at Framingham State College;
* $11 million to renovate the Quinsigamond Engineering, Science and Technology Center at Quinsigamond Community
* $15 million for a design center at the Massachusetts College of Art;
* $10 million for the Allied Health Building at Bunker Hill Community College;
* $25 million for Building 19 adaptive reuse at Springfield Tech Community College;
* $10 million for a science building at Cape Cod Community College;
* $3 million to renovate nursing instruction facilities at Salem State College;
* $20 million to renovate the science building at Fitchburg State College; and
* $2 million to upgrade the Wallace Civic Center and Planetarium, used extensively by Fitchburg State College.

"Generations of Massachusetts students will benefit from the investment Governor Romney is making in public higher education today," said Judith Gill, Chancellor of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education. "His generous support of capital improvements on our campuses will enhance teaching and learning in the critical areas of sciences, health sciences, and technology, so essential to the economic vitality of the Commonwealth."

Romney said his spending bill also contains $100 million in Chapter 90 funds to help Massachusetts cities and towns undertake repairs to their aging infrastructure. Chapter 90 grants may only be used for road and bridge maintenance and repair and are awarded by a formula that incorporates road miles, employment levels and population.

The $100 million Chapter 90 increase would be in addition to the $120 million in Chapter 90 funds allotted in the capital budget.

Said Romney: "Municipal leaders from across the Commonwealth have asked for more support to move forward with road and bridge projects that are critical to their economic growth and quality of life. My administration increased Chapter 90 aid by 20 percent last year and I'm pleased to announce a near doubling of that figure to keep our communities moving."

The capital budget plan includes $350 million to streamline and modernize courthouse complexes or trial courts in Fall River, Lowell, Salem and Taunton over the next five years.

The improvement push is part of an aggressive effort by the Romney administration to reorganize and upgrade justice facilities that have fallen into disrepair due to years of underinvestment. Major court renovation projects in Plymouth and Worcester, announced last year, are currently underway.

The Commonwealth's Capital Investment Plan provides funding for a wide range of projects around Massachusetts and includes grants for economic development, local aid, infrastructure, education, public safety and housing, among other areas.

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