A major brouhaha over zoos spilled over onto Beacon Hill Monday. Lawmakers scrambled to respond to claims from Zoo New England that a $4 million gubernatorial budget cut could force the shutdown of two local zoos.
Worse, Zoo New England officials said some animals may have to be euthanized. Zoo New England later backed away from that claim, but by that time the political stampede had already begun.
Late Monday afternoon, Gov. Deval Patrick offered a roaring defense for his Zoo New England veto. Almost every state program has been asked to make difficult cuts, he said. Specifically citing public safety, children's mental health services and senior services, the governor said those were groups — unlike Zoo New England — who were unable to get their issues "sensationalized" on the front pages.
"All I'm saying is that everyone is having to make choices," Patrick said, "and that the zoo, in effect, insisting that they should be held harmless when every family in the Commonwealth is having to make these kinds of choices is just unreasonable."
The House meets in formal session Tuesday. Speaker Robert DeLeo said he plans to overturn the governor's veto and restore funding for Zoo New England. The organization runs two animal parks: the Franklin Park Zoo and the Stone Zoo.
However, speaking to reporters on Beacon Hill Monday, DeLeo couldn't specify where the funds will come from. The speaker simply insisted the money is there, somewhere in the budget.
That was welcome news to several skittish suburban lawmakers who gathered at the Stone Zoo in Stoneham.
State Sen. Richard Tisei said closing the Stone Zoo could actually cost the state an additional $9 million, a Zoo New England estimate. Animals that couldn't be shipped to facilities in other states would have to be moved to the Franklin Park Zoo, he said.
"It isn't like there's a hotel room that you could move the animals to. You have to have an exhibit built that the animals move to," Tisei said. "You know, it's an expensive proposition."
Expensive, but less controversial than the worst-case scenario first laid out by Zoo New England: Potentially euthanizing the animals.
The man who ruffled so many feathers in making that claim, Zoo New England president John Linehan, refused multiple requests for comment.
Rep. James Dwyer, whose district includes a slice of Stoneham, said it was unfortunate euthanasia ever entered the discussion. "It's an issue, I think, that was hastily stated, frankly," Dwyer said.
This program aired on July 14, 2009.