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Boston Residents React To Mayor Menino's Budget Plan

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Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has detailed his plan for fixing the city's $140 million budget gap and, as expected, the plan calls for 565 city job cuts.

WBUR spoke to Boston residents about the possible loss of hundreds of teachers and dozens of police officers.

Roxbury resident CJ Johnson was standing in a Dudley Square convenience store on Wednesday, buying lottery tickets and talking about the recession with the shop owner.Johnson, a clothing store manager, wore a pin-striped suit and a diamond-studded dollar sign on his earlobe. He worries that there could be fewer cops patrolling his neighborhood.

"We need the police," Johnson says. "We need them. There's too much going on. And the teachers, we need them also. It's tough."

Teddy Glover works as a machinist and says he hasn't started worrying about his job, but he sees his friends and family losing work and isn't surprised his city government is having money troubles.

"I mean it sucks, but damn," Grover says. "They're cutting school teachers. But, I mean, where else are they going to get the cuts from?"

But many residents felt there's got to be other waste in the budget that can go before teachers and police officers.

William Howell was walking his pit bull down the street and said he's been looking for work since he lost his job as a cook.

He worries that this is the worst time to lose police.

"I mean, less jobs, more crime, more people looking for work," Howell says. "Ever since the president went ahead with this stimulus package, it just seems like he's giving out money and nothing's being done."

Some stimulus money has trickled down to schools and saved jobs. And city officials are hoping to use federal grants to save police positions.

Mayor Tom Menino has also reached into city reserves and negotiated new contracts for health insurance, recycling and street sweeping.

Despite those measures, the mayor still had to close a budget gap of $140 million. The toughest budget he says he's seen during his time as mayor and as a city councilor.

"It's built on the fact that we have less revenues coming to our city," Mayor Menino says. "This is not a local problem, this is a global problem. We had to reduce our staff. And we've been able to reduce our layoffs because of 22 unions that have agreed to a wage freeze."

The Boston Teachers Union has not agreed to a wage freeze, despite promises from the mayor that the freeze would prevent layoffs.

The cuts include 212 teacher and teachers assistant positions. Union President Richard Stutman doesn't think many of his union members will ultimately be laid off.

"There are roughly 200 or so so-called surplus teachers in the city right now," Stutman explains. "At the same time there are 200 vacancies. That's a net wash between our current people and the number of vacancies.

"We are seeking to retrain the people who need to be retrained into suitable vacancies. I don't know where the mayor gets a deficit, I don't know where the city comes off saying there's going to be a loss of positions. We don't believe that."

Over the next three months, the City Council will review the budget line by line, focusing on police and schools. And they'll look for other cuts or ways to raise revenue.

Council President Mike Ross thinks the city could collect property taxes more efficiently.

"We currently have $31 million in uncollected property taxes,' Ross says. "Well, that $31 million could plug holes for restoring teachers, restoring uniformed police officers, restoring other frontline services. A portion of that can be recovered."

Ross wants to sell the debt to private agencies to collect.

The council president and other councilors also signed a letter yesterday urging state lawmakers to pass a two-cent meals tax to benefit cities and towns.

Depending on the economy and possible new revenue ideas, Boston's budget could get a lot better or a lot worse.

This program aired on April 9, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

Bianca Vázquez Toness Twitter Reporter
Bianca Vázquez Toness was formerly a report for WBUR.

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