Patrick Outlines Local Aid Cuts, Seeks Education Boost

Gov. Deval Patrick will propose a $65 million local aid cut for Massachusetts cities and towns in the budget he is about to unveil.

In a speech Friday to the Massachusetts Municipal Association, the governor said he will propose $834 million in unrestricted aid to cities and towns.

Yet he will propose increasing school aid by $140 million, to $4 billion.

And Patrick says he will file legislation forcing cities and towns to join or adopt a program similar to the state's Group Insurance Commission. The bill would also force municipalities to place eligible retirees into Medicare, which many have paid for but don't use.

He estimates that will save about $120 million annually — offsetting the local aid cut.

Right now, a majority of union workers in a city or town has to approve any changes in a health plan.

Patrick says he wants to give labor a say in designing a municipality's health insurance plan, but he wants to take away the veto they now have over changes.

"We're trying to help, and I think this is a good way to help," Patrick said. "But, as I said all along, labor is entitled to and deserves a meaningful role. They will have it, but not have a veto.

"They have to talk with labor," he added, speaking of cities and towns. "They'll have to do it in a very truncated and abbreviated way, and there have to be savings."

Though one mayor said the Legislature takes the governor's budget, dumps it in the proverbial trash can and starts from scratch, town leaders were glad to hear the governor proposing to give them more authority to save money.

"I think it's bold and I think what it addresses is what I need ... leverage," said Amesbury Mayor Thatcher Kezer III. "Under the current law I have very little leverage with the labor unions, and what this appears to give is the leverage I need to try to implement changes for savings. And it actually makes the labor unions and myself and Amesbury partners in trying to achieve a benchmark goal."

The governor is expected to release his entire budget proposal sometime next week.

Fred Thys and Sacha Pfeiffer reported for WBUR.

This program aired on January 21, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.


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