EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

April 20, 2012

Proposed cut to anti-gang program sparks backlash

BOSTON — A 64 percent cut to an anti-gang program in a House committee's proposed state budget caught some lawmakers off-guard and has set off a flurry of efforts to restore funding.

The House Ways and Means Committee budget released last week recommends funding the so-called Sen. Charles E. Shannon Community Safety Initiative at $2 million, its lowest level since the start of the recent recession, and down from $5.5 million this fiscal year. The Ways and Means budget also wipes out a separate $10 million program, backed by the governor, aimed at combating youth violence.

Secretary of Public Safety Mary Beth Heffernan said she was "disappointed" with the proposed cuts. "It will be devastating to programs," she said.

In his annual budget proposal released in January, Gov. Deval Patrick recommended $8 million for the Shannon program, which directs grants to cities and towns to help coordinate anti-gang efforts. The program, named after late-Sen. Charles Shannon of Winchester, received $13 million in fiscal 2009 and was slashed to $4.5 million in fiscal 2010.

Asked about the cuts, House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, told the News Service there were "a lot of difficult choices this year."

"Certainly we do fund Shannon, not to the extent the governor proposed, but we do fund those grants," Dempsey said. "There are areas of the budget we wish we could do more."

Dempsey pointed out the House budget increased local aid funding "to make sure public safety in every city and town receives adequate funding." Communities could use local aid money to continue Shannon programs, he said. The House budget guarantees $899 million in unrestricted aid to municipalities, including $65 million that Patrick only proposed returning in local aid if a surplus existed at the end of the current fiscal year.

"I think we wanted to make certain first and foremost we were investing in local aid for cities and towns," Dempsey said.

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