BOSTON – Despite a $250 million budget gap four months into the fiscal year, top Statehouse Democrats yesterday said the situation is not yet dire enough to warrant consideration of slashing local aid or public school funding.
Gov. Deval Patrick is expected to announce mid-year budget cuts possibly before the end of the week due to sluggish economic growth over the first quarter of the fiscal year that has left the state with $256 million less in tax collections than anticipated to pay for spending in this year’s $32.5 billion budget.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian Dempsey said he too does not believe local aid cuts should be considered at this point. “I think we want to hold off. The hope is we don’t need to go there,” Dempsey said.
The Haverhill Democrat said Patrick could look to spending items that could be delayed for now, including public safety grants and a $25 million salary reserve for human service workers that Patrick has already frozen, causing workers to protest outside his office daily.
“There’s never a great place to cut. I would prefer to see perhaps it spread out in way we’ve done in the past and look at those areas of spending that perhaps we could hold off on. The least disruptive is obviously preferable,” Dempsey said.
Dempsey said that despite being “a very popular line item” the salary reserve “may be one we’ll have to hold off on.” Dempsey also noted that last year the Legislature boosted the accounts of many agencies and programs that had been slashed during the recession, and those budgets could be looked at again for savings. Those departments include the Department of Developmental Services, the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Public Health, the Judiciary, and environmental and housing accounts, Dempsey said.