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Boston officials see reasons for optimism, concern in Obama’s budget

Boston officials today found cause for both optimism and concern as they combed through President Obama’s proposed $3.8 trillion federal budget.

City officials said they were encouraged by the commitment shown in the budget to paying for schools and roads. They also praised an estimated 20 percent increase in grants to combat homelessness, which has been exacerbated by the foreclosure crisis. And they said they appreciated modest increases in funding for public housing.

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But city officials expressed concern about a proposed cut to heating assistance for low-income families and about the effect a reduction to a public health program would have on local obesity prevention and smoking cessation. And they said they were anxious about proposed cuts in the Justice Department and the impact they could have on police staff and efforts to combat violence against women.

“This is the first step of a long budget process. Mayor [Thomas M.] Menino’s administration is supportive of the president’s investment in infrastructure, clean energy, and education,” said Jake Sullivan, an aide in Boston’s office of Intergovernmental Relations. “But the mayor will also flag some areas that can be improved, such as more funding for community development block grants and fuel assistance for the most vulnerable.”

Local officials did not seem to spend too much time dissecting the proposals in Obama’s budget because of expected opposition by congressional Republicans. Analysts expect that the federal government may not adopt a spending plan until after this fall’s presidential election.

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Governor Deval Patrick’s administration declined to discuss specifics of Obama’s budget, even when asked about individual programs, such as the proposal to cut home heating aid. Instead, Alex Zaroulis of the Executive Office of Administration and Finance released a statement via e-mail.

“Even in the face of continued economic challenges, President Obama has made it clear that his [fiscal year 2013] budget will make targeted investments in job creation, education, and workforce training and innovation,” Zaroulis said. “President Obama’s priorities mirror the Patrick-Murray administration’s priorities, priorities which will help us continue to grow jobs and opportunity in the near term and strengthen our Commonwealth in the long-term.”

Obama’s proposed $452 million nationwide cut to the federal fuel program could have an impact on roughly 26,000 low-income households in Boston, Brookline, and Newton, Boston city officials said. The proposed reduction would come after the program lost more than $1 billion in funding last year, dropping from $4.7 billion to about $3.5 billion, city officials said.

The president’s spending plan spared community development block grants from another cut, a move that city officials greeted with relief. The grants represent one of the most flexible categories of federal dollars that flow back into urban areas, paying for everything from allowing cities to build more affordable housing to helping seniors finance home repairs.

Under Obama’s budget, Boston would receive roughly $15 million in community development block grants, the same as the current fiscal year, city officials said. The grant program, however, was slashed by 9 percent last year, and almost 15 percent the previous year, city officials said.

“Menino will work to raise his concerns — and the areas where he supports the Obama administration — to the Massachusetts congressional delegation and the Conference of Mayors to make sure Washington doesn’t leave Main Street behind,” Sullivan said. “The mayor has proven that cities are the solution to turning the economy around as the economic engines of the country.”

Andrew Ryan can be reached at acryan@globe.com Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.
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