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Mass. Will Cut Local Aid By As Much As 4 Percent

Massachusetts could cut local aid to cities and towns by as much as 4 percent next fiscal year, Democratic leaders on Beacon Hill said Friday.

The nonprofit Massachusetts Municipal Association estimates a 4 percent cut in local aid translates to a $200 million reduction in funding for cities and towns.

The level of direct education spending will remain steady, at so-called foundation levels.

Earlier warnings had suggested the cuts could be as deep as 5 percent, and Friday's announcement came a day later than expected. Sen. Steven Panagiotakos and Rep. Charles Murphy, the Democratic chairmen of the Senate and House Ways and Means Committees, released a joint statement instead of presenting the traditional resolution to House and Senate members.

Senate President Therese Murray acknowledged that municipalities will be hampered under the proposed reduction in local aid, but she said the state cannot afford not to cut.

Listen: Mass. Municipal Association's Geoff Beckwith On The 'Bad News Day'
http://audio.wbur.org/storage/2010/03/news_0312_local-aid.mp3

"We don't have the money, we don't have the resources and we don't have a lot of the federal things," Murray said, referring to federal funding that some, including Gov. Deval Patrick, are counting on to bolster the budget.

Geoff Beckwith, of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, is one who is counting on federal assistance to protect aid from further reductions. He says local aid has already been cut by $724 million, and that general municipal aid to cities and towns has been cut by 29 percent, even though state tax revenues have fallen by 10 percent.

"There really is not any breathing room at the local level," Beckwith said Friday, before the legislators' announcement. "Cities and towns have taken a very deep share of the state’s fiscal crisis."

State and city officials agree that any sizable reduction in local aid would significantly hamper community operations.

"It would require (communities) to make a lot of additional difficult decisions that would impact local police services, fire services, school services, trash pickup, water and sewer," said Jay Gonzalez, the Patrick administration's top budget official.

Lowell City Manager Bernard Lynch expects that cuts would affect education in his city.

"I think the difference this year will be a larger impact felt by our schools and they've already made substantial cutbacks as well," Lynch said. "So it's clearly going to have an impact."

Brockton Mayor Linda Balzotti said the local aid cuts come on top of a budget that is already stretched too thin.

"This will likely mean a serious reduction in personnel," she said. "The cuts are going to be deep and they're going to impact the services of residents."

This program aired on March 12, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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