A panel of legislative leaders has voted against allowing a bill that would stop certain budget cuts in Maine’s public university system to move forward.
The Legislative Council voted 6-4 Thursday against allowing L.R. 2883 to be considered this session, but the bill’s sponsor said he will introduce it again next session.
Rep. Benjamin Chipman, a Portland independent, sponsored the bill that would have placed a 12-month moratorium on faculty, staff and program cuts until a review of the University of Maine System’s finances is conducted by a student- and faculty-led committee. The proposed law was aimed at stopping $36 million in proposed cuts for the fiscal year beginning in July.
Students and faculty at the University of Southern Maine have protested plans to cut $14 million – 10 percent – from that school’s budget. The plan includes cutting four academic programs and as many as 50 faculty and staff members.
The University of Maine in Orono is expected to release plans for handling its share of cuts – $12 million – Friday, according to university officials. Last week, the University of Maine at Augusta announced $2.7 million in cuts; and earlier this month, the University of Maine at Farmington said it would cut $1.65 million.
Chipman said he was disappointed but not surprised that the legislative leaders voted against allowing the bill to be considered late in the session.
“There is a crisis that needs to be addressed and we do need to do something about it,” he said. “The fight isn’t over.”
A group of activists calling themselves #UMaineFuture said they were disappointed in the Legislative Council’s decision. Supporters had called and emailed legislators from across the state to encourage them to support Chipman’s proposal.
“Whether or not the Legislative Council agreed or disagreed with L.R. 2883, either outcome works for us,” Shannon Brennan, an organizer from #UMOFuture, a group representing the Orono campus, said in a prepared statement. “If they don’t want to make it a legislative issue, then we’ll make it an election issue.”
The four members who voted in favor of the measure were Democratic lawmakers: Senate President Justin Alfond, Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Anne Haskell and House Majority Leader Representative Seth Berry.
Alfond released a statement after the vote pledging to continue the conversation about the issue.
“Today I voted to approve Rep. Chipman’s bill to start the difficult but necessary conversation about the next direction for USM and the University System. USM is part of what makes Portland great today and is key to our city’s future,” Alfond said. “To be sure, these are tough times requiring tough decisions. Unfortunately, one reason that we are at this critical point is because funding for higher education has been anemic for far too long. That must change.”
Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: