UMass President Hints at Possible 2.5 Percent Tuition Hike

University of Massachusetts officials on Wednesday advanced a 1.5 percent tuition hike for medical school students, and shined a bit more light on what in-state undergraduates across the other four campuses might expect to pay next year. At a hearing in Fall River last week, UMass senior vice president of administration and finance Lisa Calise told lawmakers that if they include the university's full $568.3 million funding request in next year’s budget, UMass would be able to freeze tuition and fees for in-state undergraduate students. UMass President Marty Meehan reiterated that point Wednesday at a meeting of the Board of Trustees’ Administration and Finance Committee and added, “If not, our fiscal 2020 budget assumes a 2.5 percent increase for in-state undergraduate tuition.”

Gov. Charlie Baker, in his fiscal 2020 spending plan, recommended funding UMass at $558 million, which Meehan said fully funds the state’s share of collective bargaining costs. He said he hopes the House and Senate follow Baker’s lead in that area. Meehan said UMass officials are monitoring the state budget process and working with campuses including Lowell on developing the university’s fiscal 2020 budget, which will come before the UMass Board of Trustees in June.

Massport May Change the Way Ride Share Companies Flow Through Logan Airport

Massachusetts Port Authority officials are weighing a plan that would significantly change the flow of rideshare vehicles to and from Logan International Airport and would implement higher fees on the services, a combination of moves they say will reduce congestion and lower greenhouse gas emissions. According to the State House News Service, the proposal would funnel all trips on rides-for-hire apps such as Uber and Lyft into the ground floor of the airport's central garage for both inbound and outbound trips. Currently, vehicles can drop passengers off at the curb in front of terminals and pick up new rides in a shared parking lot. However, Massport officials say moving everything into one location would improve the flow of traffic, cut down on empty-car trips, and make it easier for drivers to find their next customers after completing a ride. Fees for service may also increase as a result, with arrival and departure fees for airport rides possibly jumping from $3.25 to $5 for single riders and $2.50 for shared rides.

MBTA Authorizes Six Percent Fare Hike Starting July 1

Travel on the MBTA's subway and commuter rail network will cost more starting July 1 after the authority’s oversight board approved a fare-hike plan Monday, securing tens of millions of dollars more in revenue every year that leaders say is necessary to continue service improvements and close a budget gap. The State House News Service reports increases average about 5.8 percent, but vary by travel type, and the board ultimately agreed to back off earlier proposed increases in bus fares. Under amendments made to the plan during Monday’s meeting, all bus rates as well as various reduced-cost passes will remain level, and the MBTA cannot implement additional fare hikes for another three years, other than changes to accommodate a new automated collection system. A single ride on the subway will now cost $2.40, up from $2.25, while a monthly bus and subway LinkPass rise from $84.50 to $90. The largest increase by dollars will be on the commuter rail, where monthly passes for the most distant zones will jump by up to $27.75.

Local Housing Authorities Lobby on Beacon Hill for More Money to Reduce Waiting Lists

There are 160,000 people in Massachusetts on waiting lists for public housing, according to housing authority representatives who visited the State House Thursday to ask for more state money and a larger role in helping the state tackle its affordable housing problem. Speakers at the lobby day held by the Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials also called for the production of more public housing units. “What we have here is what we already know, is that we have an affordable housing crisis in Massachusetts and throughout the country, and when I think of these staggering waiting list numbers, I always say to myself, what’s the solution?” said the organization’s board President Brian Costello, the executive director of the Watertown Housing Authority. “And for me, it always comes back to Kevin.”

That’s not Housing Committee Co-chair Rep. Kevin Honan, Costello noted, but actor Kevin Costner—more specifically, Costner’s character Ray in the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams,” who hears a mysterious voice in his cornfield instructing him, “If you build it, he will come.”

Costello said there is an “absolutely phenomenal” demand for affordable housing in Massachusetts, and building more affordable housing is part of the solution. The message Costello said he hears, whispered by his housing authority predecessors, is “If you can build it, they’re already here.”

MassNAHRO’s members, which include 242 local housing authorities and four community development agencies, own or manage 43,000 state public housing units and 38,000 federal public housing units.

UMass President Meehan: ‘Online College’ for Adults Could Ease Current Financial Squeeze

University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan laid out a plan on Monday to create a new “online college” for adult students that he said could become the system’s bulwark against increasing financial pressures on college campuses caused by competition for fewer college-aged students. The State House News Service quotes Meehan, in his annual speech to state leaders and the university community, as saying that in the coming months he would be meeting with senior officials and faculty on all five of the university’s campuses to plan a “new online college focused solely on adult learners.” He hopes the online college will gain a national profile. The college, as described by Meehan, will offer degree completion programs, “rapid response” to workforce demand and customized credential programs for employers. Meehan said he presented the university board of trustees last fall with a model for the online college that would “allow us to rapidly scale this platform through strategic partnerships, while implementing best practices in digital education for adult learners.” The revenue generated from the online programs will be returned to the campuses, he said. UMass Lowell currently holds criminal justice, business administration and psychology courses at a Haverhill satellite campus at Harbor Place, 2 Merrimack St.

MBTA Hearing on Fare Hikes Draws Criticism; Haverhill’s Vargas Calls Proposal ‘Deeply Unfair’

The MBTA’s public hearing in Boston Wednesday night on proposed fare increases seemed to touch virtually every grievance and concern directed at the authority in recent years. The State House News Service reports attendees shared stories of being late to work because trains were too full to let on new passengers and of standing on crowded platforms with no information about delays. They warned that the proposed hikes, which average about 6.3 percent, would disproportionately harm low-income commuters who rely on public transit. They cautioned that, by the T's own estimates, higher fares would drive down ridership and push more travelers onto already-crowded roads in carbon-spewing vehicles. In total, dozens of elected officials, transit activists and residents spoke Wednesday, virtually all arguing against the fare hikes.

Merrimack Valley Gas Disaster Costs Surpass $1B, Continue to Mount

Third-party claims in connection with the Columbia Gas explosions in the Lawrence, Andover and North Andover last September could reach $790 million and the utility expects to spend up to $345 million in other related costs, its parent company reported in a Securities and Exchange filing on Wednesday. According to the State House News Service, third-party claims in 2018 totaled $757 million and other incident expenses last year totaled $266 million. “We also expect to incur expenses for which we cannot estimate the amounts of or the timing at this time, including expenses associated with government investigations and fines, penalties or settlements with governmental authorities in connection with the Greater Lawrence Incident,” NiSource said. The costs are still mounting and the amounts included in the annual report do not include the estimated capital cost of the pipeline replacement. According to NiSource, Columbia of Massachusetts paid $167 million for the replacement of the entire affected 45-mile pipeline system and the company estimates the replacement work will cost $220 million to $230 million in total.

Massachusetts Legislator Hopes to Move State Primary Up to June to Encourage Voter Engagement

Last year's Sept. 4 primary election was about two weeks earlier than is typical for Massachusetts, moved up so that it would not conflict with Jewish holidays. But despite the alteration, it was still the sixth-latest primary election in the United States. Needham’s Sen. Becca Rausch wants to change that. The first-term legislator filed a bill that would move the state primary up to June, and she says that the switch would help voters become better engaged and would allow the general election to be more competitive—not to mention the convenience of avoiding the scheduling pitfalls that come in September.