Cigarette Tax May Bolster State's Scholarships
When Gov. Michael S. Dukakis proposed an increase in the cigarette sales tax us part of his 1984 budget two weeks ago, it looked like a relatively painless way to help balance the budget.
But the state legislators will probably try to earmark the $20 million in tax revenue for college financial aid because, committee chairmen say, the state's scholarship funding is far below the national average.
In his proposed budget, Dukakis has called for $19 million in state scholarships, up only $4 million from last year.
State scholarships are available to any Massachusetts resident with financial need. About 110 Harvard students received state scholarships this year, James S. Miller, associate director of financial aid, said last week.
Dukakis earlier this month said he is committed to seeing the state's scholarship funding at a level commensurate with other states, but that "we just can't afford it now." He added that he plans for an increase of at least $25 million within three or four years.
But many legislators don't want to wait that long. State Sen. John W. Olver (D-Amherst) chairman of the Senate taxation committee, last year was able to got a $28 million increase through the Senate, only to see it die in the House as the session ended. This year he is ready for an immediate move, an aide said last week.
With a new budget and with more cuts expected from the Reagan administration, the legislature recognizes the opportunity to push for the funding now, Stan Rosenberg. Olver's administrative aide, added.
Because the scholarship move has enough support in both branches of the legislature, a compromise with the governor may well emerge. The state could add part of the cigarette tax revenue to the scholarship funds, and save the rest for balancing the budget, state Rep. Charles F. Flaherty Jr. (D-Cambridge), chairman of the House taxation committee, said earlier this month.
Charles N. Souris, director of the state's scholarship program, said last week that Dukakis is already considering adding another $3 million to his original proposal. However, Barbara Salsbury, the state's budget director, said earlier this week that she was unaware of any change in the governor's proposals.
Souris said the growth in state financial aid funding has been insignificant for the last several years. "Ten years ago, we were awarding $900 to students at private colleges, and we're still awarding the same amount today," he said.
In the past, "Maybe Massachusetts took education for granted," Souris said, adding. "Now, the need has been recognized by both the legislature and the governor."