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Massachusetts would not be able to hold a presidential primary next year under the state budget proposal submitted to the Legislature by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, the state's top elections official warned lawmakers on Tuesday.
Secretary of State William Galvin, a Democrat, said in testimony to members of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committee that the governor's spending plan would "drastically" underfund the elections division by about 30 percent.
"As you all know, this country is scheduled to elect a new president next year," said Galvin. "Apparently the governor only wants 49 states to vote."
The Massachusetts presidential primary is scheduled for March 1, 2016. Galvin, who was re-elected in November to his sixth term as Secretary of State, asked legislators to restore some $6 million to the budget for his office.
Galvin said Massachusetts could break from tradition and hold party caucuses as an alternative to a primary, but he said that could weaken the state's clout in the selection of presidential nominees.
Elizabeth Guyton, a spokeswoman for Baker, said in a statement that the governor is proposing the same level as funding for the Secretary of State as in the last presidential election year in 2012.
"Given the $1.8 billion deficit left behind by the previous administration, belt tightening was required across state government," Guyton said.
Galvin contended his office faced additional costs for printing ballots due to the certification in the last election of two smaller political parties, the United Independent and Green-Rainbow parties, along with requirements that multilingual ballots be printed in Boston and more than a dozen other cities in Massachusetts.
The budget reduction would also slow preparations for online voter registration and early voting, scheduled to take effect for the November 2016 election in Massachusetts, he said.
Sen. Karen Spilka and Rep. Brian Dempsey, the respective chairs of the Ways and Means panels, said they would consider Galvin's request for additional funding but offered no guarantees.
Tuesday's hearing was the first of several on the governor's budget proposal for the fiscal year starting July 1. The House will likely vote on its own version of the spending plan sometime next month, followed by action in the Senate.
Baker's top budget official, Secretary of Administration and Finance Kristen Lepore, fielded a number of questions from lawmakers about the governor's proposal to offer early retirement incentives to state employees. The administration estimates that about 4,500 executive branch workers would seek early retirement if the plan is approved, providing the state with a net savings of $178 million next year.
Several legislators expressed concern about the ability of state agencies to maintain operations with the loss of many experienced employees. The administration intends to replace only 20 percent of the salaries of early retirees.
Lepore responded that some 7,300 state workers took advantage of the last early retirement program in 2002-2003, "and government did not come to a screeching halt."
State Treasurer Deb Goldberg, a Democrat, said in her testimony that while early retirement incentives might provide significant short-term savings, it could also create long-term problems by adding to the state's unfunded pension liability.
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