EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 13, 2013

Patrick slashes $177M in local aid from budget

Legislature mulls override of vetoes to restore funds to cities and towns

By Mike LaBella
mlabella@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini said he's worried, but at this time isn't in a panic about Gov. Deval Patrick's proposed state budget containing $177 million in cuts to unrestricted local aid.

Fiorentini said the governor had informed him of his proposed cut, but that he won't know how it might impact Haverhill's budget until next week.

"We are aware of what's happening but we're not going to panic," Fiorentini said following a press conference Patrick held at the statehouse yesterday at which he signed a $33.6 billion budget, vetoing $240 million in transportation funding and $177 million in unrestricted local aid. Patrick said his cut to local aid amounted to about a 20 percent reduction and that without his vetoes, the budget would be out of balance and that he would not sign an out of balance budget.

Fiorentini said unrestricted local aid can be used for any purpose, in contrast to Chapter 70 money, which provides aid for schools and Chapter 90 money which is for road construction and improvements.

"If he had to veto something, we side with the Legislature on this, as it was the wrong thing to pick," Fiorentini said. "Although we've been a very big supporter of the governor, he did campaign on a platform that he would not cut local aid."

A press release issued by the Governor's office stated that Patrick's budget for the next fiscal year is a balanced one that makes significant investments in education, health care cost containment and youth violence prevention.

The FY14 budget increases Chapter 70 education funding by $130 million over FY13 to $4.3 billion, bringing funding for Chapter 70 aid to the highest level in state history, according to the governor's office. Patrick's budget also includes $15 million in new investments for early education.

“This budget invests in many of our most important needs as a Commonwealth, especially education, reforms government in ways that make it perform better, and is balanced,” Patrick said.

Patrick said his budget also relies in part on new taxes on cigarettes, gas and businesses.

Following Patrick's announcement, House Speaker Robert DeLeo issued a statement indicating lawmakers would seek an override next week of the governor's vetoes.

"The House of Representatives will protect the cities and towns of Massachusetts," DeLeo said. "We passed a budget that addresses key transportation needs, provides funding to our municipalities and makes key investments in higher education and community colleges, and we will again vote next week to maintain that commitment."

House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) issued a statement in response to Governor Patrick’s vetoes of sections within the FY 2014 budget:

"I am extremely disappointed that Governor Patrick has not only continued his tax-and-spend assault on taxpayers, but has now extended his fiscal wrath to municipalities across the Commonwealth," Jones stated.

Jones said he and his Republican colleagues oppose what he called "devastating and reckless reductions" to unrestricted local aid.

"Cities and towns across Massachusetts should not be used as a pawn in the Governor’s quest to fund his legacy project," Jones said.

The Governor filed a FY14 supplemental budget as well, which includes a provision to automatically restore full funding for transportation and unrestricted local aid, should the Legislature accept his amendment to the transportation finance bill.

"Without the revenues from the transportation financing bill, this budget is out of balance," Patrick said, explaining his vetoes while also touting the potential for the funds to be restored through a future budget bill.

During yesterday's press conference, Patrick responded to a question about his support of new photo identification requirements on EBT, or Electronics Benefit Transfer cards. He echoed statements he'd made in a press release this week in which he asked for a review in three years of the measure’s effectiveness.

"What I propose is we start the program, we pay for it, and we come back after three years of experience and see whether we are getting the benefit of these additional costs," Patrick said.

Fiorentini said the state budget will now go back to the legislature, which he said can either resolve its differences with the governor or override his vetoes.

"We're hopeful that one of those things will happen," Fiorentini said. "We have a lot of confidence in Representative Brian Dempsey, and we'll wait to see how this plays out."