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UMass tuition, fees could be frozen

Governor Deval Patrick ­increased the political pressure on state legislators to back his $1.9 billion tax plan to invest in education and transportation Wednesday with a roll-out of an online map that allows constituents to see the impact the spending would have on their districts.

The map, which outlines for people the proposed education spending and transportation projects for each of their ­communities, is broken down by the state’s 200 House and Senate districts.

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Patrick made clear at a State House press conference that the online map — which can be accessed on the state website — was intended to give constituents ammunition to lobby lawmakers for the proposals.

He brushed aside the notion that such tactics could alienate the lawmakers at a time when he needs their support for his sweeping plan, which includes raising the state income tax from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent and lowering the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent.

“They work for the public just like I do,’’ the governor said. “The public is going to have to speak up. They are ­going to have to say to the legislators the same thing they are saying to me, which is, we want this, we get it. And we are going to have to make the case to them of the wisdom of making these investments.”

The tax plan would fund $1 billion in annual spending on transportation projects and a $550 million investment in education programs, including the creation of a universal pre-K program and extended school days in high-need schools.

But the legislative reception has been cool so far. House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo has expressed “grave concerns” about the tax plans. Senator Stephen M. Brewer, a Barre Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, has said residents already carry a heavy burden.

Patrick signaled yesterday that he is open to compromise, noting that others have proposed hikes in the gas tax or other tax changes to fund his proposals.

“There are a whole bunch of different ways to accomplish this,’’ Patrick said.

He also downplayed the initial opposition that came from the Legislature. “It’s natural and right for people to warm slowly to tax increases,’’ he said.

Meanwhile, in another move to gain momentum for Patrick’s proposal, University of Massachusetts President Robert L. Caret sent a letter to the UMass trustee chairman this week claiming that tuition and fees could be frozen for students in the college system if the tax plan is approved by lawmakers and signed into law.

Caret also said his office’s calculation of Patrick’s proposal would generate enough funding for the university to again provide 50 percent of the funding of its academic programs.

The state funding had slipped in recent years to about 43 percent, with students and their families paying the balance.

“I want to take this moment to reiterate that if the Legislature advances the funding for the university proposed by the Governor and it is signed into law, we would be prepared to maintain student tuition and fees at current levels for the 2013-1014 academic year,’’ ­Caret told trustee chairman Henry M. Thomas III in a letter dated Feb. 26.

The costs vary at UMass colleges.

At the flagship campus in Amherst, tuition, fees, and board run about $23,000.

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