Volume 29 - Number 13 - Thursday, March 27, 1997

Finances still fuzzy

by Eric Smith

The provincial budget, tabled on Tuesday afternoon, sheds little further light on McGill's financial picture for next year.

Last week's spending announcements, which projected an overall cut to education of $380 million, will be partially offset by new investments totalling $160 million next year.

Of that amount, $47 million will go to universities and CEGEPs for building renovations, with an additional $109 million earmarked for the following year.

"That's really good news," said Vice-Principal (Finance and Administration) Phyllis Heaphy, "It doesn't come to much when you consider that McGill alone needs to invest $200 million in building repair. But I won't look a gift horse in the mouth."

Although the total cut to the university system is largely known, there is still little precise information on what it will mean for McGill. The distribution of grant amounts among Quebec universities is under review, and the actual impact of new spending is not yet known.

"We have no information," says Heaphy. "There have been a lot of rumours but there has been no communication between the government and universities. The university network has been kept in the dark."

Pierre Reid, rector of Université de Sherbrooke and president of the Conférence des recteurs et principaux du Québec, echoes Heaphy's frustration. "It's always very difficult to plan our budgets," he said, "and that's been a criticism as much with the last government as this one."

But Reid added, "This year for the first time, there was no meeting between the ministry and university leaders prior to the spending and budget announcements. I had to get the information by reading the debate in the National Assembly on the Internet. That situation is deplorable."

There is some good news for students in the budget. To benefit lower-income students their tuition will become a 20% tax credit rather than a deduction. The credit may now be carried forward. Non-tuition fees and charges, with the exception of Students' Society fees, will now be included in the calculation of the credit. "We really wanted to see additional fees be tax deductible," said Students' Society president Chris Carter, "so that's a positive step."

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