Rowland budget plan would cut student aid

If the Connecticut Legislature approves Gov. John Rowland’s proposals for dealing with the state budget deficit, Yale will have to pony up over $750,000 in additional student financial aid next year.

One of the governor’s austerity measures would eliminate state aid to Connecticut residents who attend in-state universities with an endowment greater than $100 million.

The current Yale student body includes 104 Connecticut residents who receive some financial aid from the state, said Myra Smith, the University’s financial aid director. These students receive an average state award of $7,290, with the exact amount based on need, similar to federal financial aid grants.

Yale students who get the state grants do not need to worry about losing their funding, however. Smith said that Yale will make up the difference, requiring the University to allot more money for financial aid next year.

“Because Yale is committed to meeting the demonstrated need, we will replace any lost grant funds with Yale funds, and obviously that will increase the amount of money needed for financial aid,” she said.

State Rep. Patricia Dillon, a New Haven Democrat and a member of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, criticized the governor’s proposal, which would also affect Connecticut residents attending Trinity College, Fairfield University, Wesleyan University and the University of Connecticut.

“It looks like they are getting penalized for having a large donor base,” said Dillon, who has studied at the Yale School of Medicine and the School of Epidemiology and Public Health.

Smith said the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges is working on a response to the proposal on behalf of the schools involved.

Rowland also proposed cuts to the state’s public schools and to mental-health care programs. Dillon said she feels these cuts are also inappropriate because they are not cost-effective — cuts in mental health programs often lead to higher rates of incarceration and more money spent on the prison system.

The governor had also proposed to cut $16 million from transportation funding, but has since put it back in his proposal, said John Wallace, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

Dillon said the proposed cut to public school funding would hit New Haven especially hard. Although the school district stands to lose $2.5 million, which Dillon described as a small percentage of the schools’ overall budget, she said that even a small decrease is harmful because New Haven schoolchildren are a “vulnerable group.”

Dillon also said the budget would not be in such dire straits if the state had done a better job of managing its finances, and she added that she thinks the actual numbers are even more dismal than the governor revealed last week.

She said Rowland has significantly overstated the amount of revenue the state has taken in this year. Among other reasons, she said, revenues are much lower than they should be because several corporations based in Connecticut have transferred their assets to out-of-state tax shelters and are no longer paying as much to the state.

Dillon said she is planning on fighting Rowland’s recommendations when they come before the Appropriations Committee.

But she doesn’t expect it to be easy. The evening before a subcommittee meeting to discuss the budget, Dillon watched “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on television.

“It’s good preparation,” she said.

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