Self-pity and deflecting blame are luxuries Lawrence can no longer afford.

Mayor William Lantigua presented his budget, crafted with the assistance of state-appointed overseer Robert Nunes, to the City Council Tuesday night.

The budget, for the 2011 fiscal year that begins July 1, is a harsh one. Unless the city can win pay and benefit concessions from its public employee unions, 115 city workers will lose their jobs on that date.

That kind of job loss, and the reduction in services and public safety protection that will result, is unacceptable, as Lantigua said both at the City Council and in a discussion with Eagle-Tribune editors.

Pink slips have already gone out to 38 police officers, 32 firefighters, 15 public works employees and the rest of the 115 municipal workers targeted for cuts.

In addition, 75 School Department employees, including 32 teachers, have been notified they will be laid off.

The cuts are necessary to balance Lawrence's $72 million municipal and $135.6 million school budgets.

The cuts may be unacceptable, but they are inevitable — unless the city's unions are willing to negotiate to save as many jobs as possible.

The prospect of that happening, judging from the reaction of some Tuesday night, is not good.

Patrick Driscoll, president of the firefighters union, told reporter Jill Harmacinski Lantigua's budget presentation last night left his membership "frustrated."

"He insulted every employee in the city of Lawrence. ... We don't get anything more than employees in the surrounding cities and towns do," Driscoll said.

"Just like it wasn't his fault he inherited the deficit, it isn't our fault there are budget problems now," Driscoll said.

What public employees earn in other communities is irrelevant. Other communities have money. Lawrence has none. The city had to borrow $24 million to pay off its deficit from the past three fiscal years and plans to borrow $4 million more to balance the 2011 budget.

There is no "free cash," no "rainy day" fund, no hidden reserve to tap. The city is broke, busted. It's "brother, can you spare a dime" time.

No one is trying to blame the firefighters for the city's budget problems. Who is to blame doesn't really matter right now. What matters is keeping enough firefighters and other employees on the street to provide the services and protection residents need.

To do that, the unions will have to come to the bargaining table. The deals that were made when times were good are no longer affordable.

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