By Katie Lannan
BOSTON -- Two months after Gov. Deval Patrick issued a directive granting in-state tuition to some undocumented immigrants, two Republican legislators are looking to undo that action.
"The key issue here is that the Patrick administration wants to expand benefits and force working families to subsidize people who aren't following the rules," said Andover Rep. Jim Lyons, whose district includes part of Tewksbury.
Lyons, along will Billerica Rep. Marc Lombardo, filed a bill last week that would restrict in-state tuition benefits to citizens and legal permanent residents.
Their legislation is in response Patrick's November decision to make reduced in-state tuition rates available to young immigrants who receive work permits under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The bill marks the second time the Merrimack Valley's Republican representatives have joined forces recently. Earlier this month, the pair put forth a proposal guaranteeing taxpayer-funded legal representation, to make a point about the state footing the bill for the legal fees of convicted murderer Michelle Kosilek.
Lombardo said that while this new bill reflects a serious intent, it's once more about taking a stand on behalf of taxpayers.
"They don't want their tax dollars wasted or abused," Lombardo said. "They expect us to stand up when we see this kind of nonsense, and that's what Rep. Lyons and I are doing and will continue to do."
A 2011 study by the independent Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation found that extending in-state tuition to undocumented youths would bring in $1.8 million to $2.1 million in the first year, with more than 300 of these students expected to enroll across community colleges, state universities and the University of Massachusetts system.
The foundation expects that by the fourth year resident tuition discounts were expanded, after which enrollment rates would level off, new revenues could reach up to $7.4 million.
In light of projections that offering in-state rates to undocumented immigrants would actually boost state coffers, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition said the measure proposed by Lombardo and Lyons was inexplicable.
"It seems particularly cruel to single out children who have gone to school in Massachusetts and pledged allegiance to the flag since they were small children, though they're not green-card holders," said Frank Soults, MIRA's communication director.
At out-of-state rates, many of these children would not be able to afford college, Soults said.
Excluding fees and other expenses, in-state tuition for UMass Lowell this year is $1,454, while a student from outside Massachusetts would pay $8,567. At Fitchburg State University, a Massachusetts resident would pay $970 in tuition, and an out-of-state student would be charged $7,050.
The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation estimates that 80 percent of those who would become eligible for in-state tuition would attend community college, where the difference in cost remains significant.
At Middlesex Community College, a Massachusetts resident pays a total of $176 per credit, while a nonresident student pays $382. Mount Wachusett Community College charges $190 per credit at its in-state rate, and $395 out-of-state.
Now that the bill has been filed, Lyons said he and Lombardo are working to find co-sponsors for the legislation and hope to gather bipartisan support. The representatives cite a 2006 vote in which a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives voted 96-57 in favor of a bill with the same goal.
"The Legislature has already made their voice heard," said Lombardo. "I've never seen an issue outrage people as much as in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. It's clearly not the will of the people of this commonwealth, and we're going to make sure we try to fix that."
A different group of lawmakers hopes to gather bipartisan support for a bill that would expand in-state tuition benefits, rather than restricting them.
State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, is co-sponsoring a bill by state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, that would offer resident tuition to illegal-immigrant students who meet certain requirements including graduating from a Massachusetts high school. It's a measure that has been defeated by the legislature multiple times.
"I just don't believe in punishing children for the sins or the mistakes of their parents," Eldridge said.
Lawmakers say there is a wide range of opinions on in-state tuition within Beacon Hill.
"The Legislature is pretty well-divided on that issue," said State Rep. Stephen DiNatale, D-Fitchburg.
DiNatale said Tuesday he had already received a message from a constituent regarding the bill filed by Lombardo and Lyons.
"This is definitely going to generate a great deal of discussion," he said.
Follow Katie Lannan on twitter @katielannan.