Gov. Patrick will cut $901 million from budget
Trying to rescue a budget that's $1.4 billion out of balance and at risk of developing more red ink, Gov. Deval Patrick said Wednesday he would slice $901 million from the fiscal 2009 spending plan and raid the state's pension and reserve funds.
Mr. Patrick plans to withdraw an added $200 million from the state's reserves, on top of the $400 million already scheduled, part of a multifaceted strategy to close a deficit the governor said had widened to $1.4 billion. In July Patrick signed a $28.2 billion budget.
The governor will unilaterally cut $755 million from executive agency spending, with MassHealth, labor and workforce, environmental affairs, and higher education suffering heavily. Between layoffs and attrition, aides said, roughly 1,000 of the total 68,000-strong state workforce will be hit.
Mr. Patrick is also declining to fund $146 million in budget deficiencies, many of which affect human service caseloads. Leaders at the legislature, judiciary, and other constitutional offices at Mr. Patrick's request have volunteered some $52 million in spending reductions, the governor's aides said.
The package, announced Wednesday as the Dow lost another 733 points, does not touch direct aid to municipalities or the key Chapter 70 education account, and does not seek revenues from expanded gambling or an increase in the state's gas tax. Mr. Patrick also has not reiterated his request to lawmakers for broader budget-cutting authority.
In making the cuts, Mr. Patrick said he hopes to protect safety net services and programs that serve the homeless and veterans. He said he avoided across-the-board cuts with the goal of being sensitive to those most in need of services. He predicted slower permitting approvals, longer Registry lines and less frequent maintenance of state parks.
One potentially contentious request Mr. Patrick made of the Legislature, whose leaders have been briefed on his plans, would allow him to transfer spending among line items. That would strip from lawmakers much of their budget power, which often relies heavily on earmarks within line items.
Aides said the elongated pension funding schedule, pushing the full-funding date back from 2023 to 2025, would net $100 million for the current fiscal year, but said they were uncertain how much it would cost in the long term.
To close the gap, Mr. Patrick is also relying on $168 million in new revenues, $100 million of which will come from Department of Revenue tax case settlements that aides said were guaranteed. Additionally, $55 million in unanticipated federal health and human service aid is headed for Massachusetts.
Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei called the budget contretemps a mess of the Democratic leadership's making.
"In the two years he has been in office, Governor Patrick has expanded the state budget by nearly $2.5 billion, or 9 percent, created two new executive agencies, and added close to 2,000 new positions to state government," said Mr. Tisei. "These expansions were unsustainable when they happened, and are even more so now that we are in the midst of a worsening economy."