Senate Republicans To Block Mass. Budget Bill

Gov. Deval Patrick accused his Republican challengers of "a new low" Tuesday after one - the Senate's GOP floor leader - suggested that the administration had not fully explained the state's financial health and hinted that a postelection tax increase might be needed to close a budget shortfall.

Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei, the running mate of Republican gubernatorial challenger Charles Baker, said earlier he would block action on a $420 million supplemental budget bill until Patrick explained to him and his fellow Senate Republicans if there were any other budget shortfalls on the horizon.

The supplemental funding comes from the federal government and must be spent before the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2011.

"I kind of feel like this whole exercise ... is putting our fingers in a dam that's about to burst, because we don't know all the facts," said Tisei.

The Wakefield senator, who would take over as lieutenant governor in January if he and Baker win on Nov. 2, then said, "Things are being swept under the rug until after the election. There's a lot of talk here already about a major tax increase after the election."

Asked who was taking about that, Tisei responded, "I've heard. There's talk around."

He then used a standard Baker campaign line, saying, "It's the only way out for people who refuse to reform and restructure state government."

Patrick complained about the accusation in a statement issued hours later.

"Republican electioneering on Beacon Hill has reached a new low," he said. "While we try to avert plans to close prisons and group homes for people with profound disabilities, Richard Tisei makes baseless insinuations about looming postelection tax increases. These charges are both ridiculous and irresponsible."

The governor added: "Tisei should not let his obsession with his political campaign interfere with the responsible discharge of the people's business."

The state is just three months into its new fiscal year, providing fodder for the supplemental budget debate.

When Patrick signed the spending plan into law, he pronounced it both balanced and on time. He has repeated that claim on the campaign trail.

Yet the budget included sharp service cuts because the state had yet to receive some federal Medicaid money at the time it was passed. Massachusetts subsequently received the funding, but it's using some of the $420 million to close shortfalls in other areas of the budget.

By some estimates, the budget remains $600 million out of balance for this year, and $2 billion out of balance for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The governor's budget chief, Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez, said in an interview that he planned to respond to the Senate Republicans' request for information.

Nonetheless, he said: "The suggestion that the budget isn't balanced is completely false."

Gonzalez noted the Legislature has routinely passed supplemental budgets under both Republican and Democratic governors, as it calibrates tax revenues and program spending.

He said roughly half of the federal money will fund programs currently covered with money drawn from the state's rainy day fund, preventing a planned $195 million withdrawal from that account.

He also pointed to a report Monday showing tax revenues surging in September, up more than 14 percent compared to the same month last year.

Gonzalez said much of that growth is in areas that reflect positive current economic activity, such as withholding taxes and sale tax receipts.

This program aired on October 5, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.


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