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Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday ordered an immediate state government hiring freeze as one of his first steps toward reducing a deficit in the state budget.
The Republican also announced on his first full day in office that he had ordered cabinet secretaries to begin program-by-program reviews of state agencies, as well as a review of ongoing contract procurements and recent additions to existing state contracts.
"The current deficit requires significant spending reductions to ensure a balanced and fair budget that protects taxpayers and maintains the future stability of the Commonwealth," Baker said in a statement. "Our current deficit proves that Massachusetts is facing a spending problem that must be remedied through smarter spending and a streamlined approach for state government."
Baker told reporters earlier that his staff was working to determine the exact dimensions of the deficit in the $36 billion budget for the fiscal year ending July 1. He said in his inaugural address Thursday that the shortfall would, at the minimum, exceed $500 million.
The hiring freeze requires all executive branch agencies to withdraw current job postings for vacant positions and prohibits the hiring of new contract workers. Agencies would also be limited in bringing in temporary staff or paid interns.
In a memo to agency heads, Baker said some public safety and direct care positions including social workers would be exempted from the freeze.
The move is expected to save $6.5 million over the remainder of the fiscal year, or only a fraction of the projected deficit.
The agency review is aimed at determining the scope and purpose of each department of state government and at establishing a baseline for future performance, Baker said. The governor does not have direct authority over spending by the legislative or judicial branches.
Baker is expected to propose additional steps to bridge the budget gap in the coming weeks. He has ruled out new taxes or cuts in local aid.
Former Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick ordered nearly $200 million in executive branch cuts in his final weeks in office, but did not specifically impose a hiring freeze.
Also Friday, Baker said there was still much to learn about the Boston Olympic proposal, but he called the U.S. Olympic Committee's selection of the city Thursday as the American bidder for the 2024 games an opportunity for the region and pledged that Massachusetts residents would have plenty of say in the process.
He began his day by attending a news conference with committee officials, Mayor Martin Walsh and other organizers of the Boston bid.
"I said during my campaign that if Boston was fortunate enough to be selected as part of this, I wanted Massachusetts and I wanted Boston to have as transparent and as open a process as possible because that is fundamentally how we do things here," the governor said.
Baker has called for a privately funded approach to the Boston Olympics proposal and said any public investment should be on infrastructure that would benefit the region well beyond the games.
The governor said he expected "regional conversations" to take place outside of Boston. The Olympic proposal could include venues around the metropolitan area, with traffic and construction potentially impacting much of the state's population.
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