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Patrick Unveils $32.3 Billion Mass. Spending Plan

Gov. Deval Patrick on Wednesday unveiled a $32.3 billion state budget proposal for the fiscal year starting July 1.

In his news conference, the governor acknowledged there are more difficult decisions ahead:

I am asking the Legislature to make tough choices. But the progress we have made is happening because we have made those tough choices, and made them together, inspired by our commitment to leave to others a better commonwealth than what we found.

For details on the spending plan, WBUR's Steve Brown joined All Things Considered Wednesday.

Sacha Pfeiffer: What are some of the highlights of the governor's plan?

Steve Brown: As you said, it's $32.3 billion, which is just shy of 3 percent more than the current year's budget. Much of that increase is due in part to increased costs — wage agreements, a court decision ordering the state to include legal immigrants in health care coverage — things like that. It taps into the state's rainy day fund by $400 million.

The governor says this budget tries to be smarter about how the state delivers services, taking advantage of technology and other innovations.

Talk about the areas where the governor is proposing spending more money.

Education is one area, although I'm sure there are a lot of parents and educators who say it still isn't enough.

Out of this budget, $4.1 billion goes to K-12 education. The governor pointed out that no district will see a drop in state support next year. He's proposing an additional $10 million to go to programs aimed at closing the achievement gap. Of course in his State of the State Monday he talked about unifying the community college system and increase funding there by 5 percent.

He also wants to spend $200 million for repairing local roads and bridges, saying they need fixing, and fixing them will put people to work.

How about the cuts?

Among them:

  • $30 million in savings from layoffs or the elimination of 400 positions in the executive branch;
  • $8.9 million from closing Bay State Correctional Facility in Norfolk;
  • $4 million from local tourist councils;
  • $1.5 million from free or subsidized lunches for senior citizens;
  • $465,000 from school nurse funding;
  • $94,000 from teenage pregnancy prevention — a loss of services for about 1,000 teenagers

How else does he intend to meet the state's obligations?

We heard last week — and he reiterated Wedneday — a call for expanding the sales tax to candy and soda, as well as an increase in the cigarette tax.

He's also looking to save $700 million in health care costs, seeking more competition, re-procuring existing contracts in favor of global payments, and rooting out waste and fraud in MassHealth.

The Department of Transportation has to reduce its budget by $15 million, and if they can't, there could be some service cuts at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

What's the reaction so far?

The building is rather quiet, not many legislators floating around. I touched base with the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Brian Dempsey, and he's withholding any specific take on it until he's had some time to look at it. He said he's not ruling anything in or out at this time.

As with any big bill like this, many folks are taking some time to digest what's in it. Michael Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation calls it a "fiscally responsible budget," but warns it hinges on two major assumptions: one, that the state can make projected savings in the area of health care costs; and two, that the Legislature approves the new taxes — extending the sales tax to candy and soft drinks and a 50-cent-a-pack increase in the cigarette tax. Said Widmer:

This is a long, extended fiscal crisis for the state, this is year No. 5, so, if any of the revenues or savings fall short, then it means just more pain across state government.

Groups that see their funding cut will of course try to convince the Legislature that their funding should be restored, but that might still be difficult. Both chairmen of the Ways and Means committees have warned that this is another tough budget year.

This article was originally published on January 25, 2012.

This program aired on January 25, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Steve Brown Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.



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