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Reaction to Gov. Patrick's Budget

The budget battle is on. Governor Deval Patrick has set the starting point in a 28-billion dollar spending plan he filed yesterday for the next fiscal year.

Patrick says the budget supports his priorities — education, aid for cities and towns, public safety, and economic development. But whether he has the money to deliver is in question. WBUR's Martha Bebinger reports.

MARTHA BEBINGER: With the state facing a billion dollar plus budget gap and the national economy in trouble...there has been widespread speculation about how the Governor would deliver a balanced budget. He would save money by asking state employees to pay a larger share of health insurance costs, by trimming or offering no increase for almost 200 individual state programs and agencies and the governor relies on Medicaid cuts of 300-million dollars. But Governor Patrick says the state must spend more money next year in a few areas.

GOVERNOR DEVAL PATRICK: Measured against the cost of inaction, a loss of competitive edge, the need for more social programs and a growing budget gap, proactive steps are essential.

BEBINGER: There is an extra 100-million dollars to fight and prevent crime, more money for parks, 10-million for a plan to end homelessness and for an economic development trust fund. Massachusetts Association of School Committees director Glenn Koocher calls the Governor's pledge of 368-million for public schools, extended day programs and more pre-K classes, courageous.

GLENN KOOCHER: We are very pleased that the Governor is not only looking at education, but also some of the agencies that support education when they are not in school. So, this is good news, especially in perspective of the economy.

BEBINGER: The state's plan to cover the uninsured, which offers free and subsidized coverage, would get an 84% increase over this year. Celia Wcislo is on the Connector board that manages the coverage plans.

CELIA WCISLO: I was happily surprised to see all the basic tenets of health care reform funded. I think the governor took seriously all the promises he made a year ago about fully funding our step forwards on reform.

BEBINGER: But skeptics warn that the Governor won't be able to deliver on many of his budget promises because he uses more than a billion dollars in reserves, assumed savings, cuts and revenue sources, namely casino fees and corporate taxes, the legislature has not approved.

MICHAEL WIDMER: We're relying too heavily on these uncertain revenues.

BEBINGER: Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

WIDMER: The budget has clearly made important investments in health care and education. The problem is, are the revenues going to be able to support those investments.

BEBINGER: The Governor anticipates using 297 million dollars from corporate tax changes and 124 million from casino licensing fees...neither of which have the support of House leaders. The Governor and his aides lashed back at this criticism yesterday, saying it is responsible to lay out priorities and a plan that pushes the legislature to fund them...even if the new revenues are controversial.

GOVERNOR PATRICK: The job is not just to take the boxes and move them all around, to recount and redistribute what we think we have in hand. Our job is to make reasoned, sensible, justifiable proposals to try to stimulate this economy and move Massachusetts forward, that's exactly what we've done.

BEBINGER: But the Governor's argument is not much comfort for cities and town where leaders say they desperately need that 124 million dollars that will make up for lagging lottery sales that help fund municipal budgets. Geoff Beckwith is director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

GEOFF BECKWITH: We strongly feel that this level of aid should not be conditioned on new revenue sources such as casinos or any other revenue sources that have not yet been approved.

BEBINGER: House leaders, in addition to saying that they don't plan to consider the 420-million dollars the Governor includes from corporate tax changes and casinos in the House budget...are also warning that they will focus more on cuts and efficiencies. Ways and Means chairman Robert DeLeo says while the house shares many of the Governor's priorities...the state must be careful to operate within its means.

ROBERT DELEO: We're going to be taking a completely fresh look at everything. This is a very difficult fiscal time. I just hope that everyone has that in mind and that expectations that people have coming in here are realistic.

BEBINGER: The Governor pitches his priorities and the money needed to fund them directly to the legislature...and the public tonight in his state of the state speech.

For WBUR, I'm Martha Bebinger at the State House.

This program aired on January 24, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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