BOSTON (SHNS) – The governor and House have embraced versions of a tuition-free community college proposal, but one senator Wednesday said he wants lawmakers to “commit to the full vision” of a lobbying coalition that’s pushing for the state to cover tuition and fees for most Bay State students at all public colleges and universities here.

Sen. Jamie Eldridge, speaking at a rally on the State House steps, said it’s “thanks to the millionaire’s tax, thanks to robust revenue” that he expects “major investments” in public higher education this session. His comments came shortly before state officials announced that April tax collections plunged by nearly $2.2 billion, compared to April 2022, a development that could create some apprehension about major new public outlays.

Along with the Higher Ed For All Coalition, Eldridge wants passage of the so-called Debt-Free Bill (S 823 / H 1265) which would pay eligible students the cost of their tuition and fees to attend any Massachusetts public college or university. It would also cover certificate, vocational, and training programs at public institutions.

Students would need to meet certain criteria, including attending high school in Massachusetts for at least three years, and the money would come from a grant fund administered by the Board of Higher Education. Eldridge’s bill is cosponsored in the Senate by Sens. Jacob Oliveira and Sal DiDomenico.

Rallying on Beacon Street, the coalition also pushed for passage of the so-called Cherish Act (S 816 / H 1260), which proponents said would lead to wage increases for campus employees, expand student resources like mental health counseling, and lower tuition prices.

The Cherish Act would also create a “debt free college scholarship program,” which supporters framed as similar to the one in Eldridge’s bill but more targeted toward aiding students with economic need.

That program would factor in existing financial aid and call for the student to potentially make a “reasonable family contribution” before the state “fill[s] the gap” toward the total attendance cost. That component of the bill would cost the state around $500 million, according to a Mass. Teachers Association spokesman.

Speakers at the rally spoke more to the need for the programs than the cost of making them a reality.

Beth Kontos, president of American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, harkened back to her time as a Salem State student more than 40 years ago when tuition was $250 per semester.

“We need to go back to the days when a student could work during the summer and part-time and pay all of their tuition,” Kontos said. She added, “I graduated debt-free, and I made $3 an hour to do it. So we need to go back.”

The bill would establish funds dedicated to “green and healthy” buildings and “public higher education wage equity and working conditions,” seeded with a variety of possible funding sources including appropriations, gifts, and grants.

The measure is sponsored by Rep. Sean Garballey and Sen. Jo Comerford, and is cosponsored by more than half of the Senate’s membership, including one of the branch’s three Republicans.

It would put some stipulations on funding provided to the public colleges and universities for on-campus services, including $2,000 per eligible student for “services to improve outcomes for the most vulnerable” such as low-income, first-generation, minority, disabled, and LGBTQ students.

Salem State University psychology professor Joanna Gonsalves lauded the proposal as a way to “start tackling the mountain of debt that our campuses have accrued because of borrowing,” and said funding for the bill would be possible because of the amount of revenue flowing in from the state’s new income surtax on high-earning households.

A “Public College and University Capital Debt Relief Fund” proposed in the bill would “provide financial relief for debt service associated with capital construction projects.”

“Capital loans are paid for through student fees, and our students are graduating with mountains of debt. A good portion of that is for the debt that their universities have taken on,” Gonsalves said.

The president of an AFT union at UMass Dartmouth said capital repairs are needed on public higher ed campuses.

“Who wants to teach, who wants to learn, in a place that the water’s coming through the ceilings? The roofs are falling apart. Our buildings are falling apart. The air conditioning’s falling apart. That’s not a place conducive to education,” said Maintainers Local 6350 President Nick Gula.

The Healey administration has estimated the new 4 percent surtax on millionaire incomes will bring in at least $1 billion per year.

“We have the revenue. We have the political will,” said Eldridge, a Marlborough Democrat, as he called on lawmakers and the governor to “get this done.”

In a new report released Tuesday, the MassINC policy and research group identified what it called “loud signals” that the state’s higher education offerings do not provide “an equitable path to upward mobility” for low-income students and people of color, including an “increasingly unaffordable” pricetag on in-state tuition.

Looking at how to spend funds from the new surtax, MassINC recommended “focus[ing] foremost on reducing all direct expenses and helping low-income students with living expenses” through needs-based grants and cost-of-living stipends. The report also endorsed the MassReconnect program proposed by Gov. Maura Healey and the House, and recommended boosting faculty salaries and creating a stabilization fund specifically for public higher ed campuses.