State and local officials said they are worried about large federal budget cuts set to take effect Friday, even as they have little official guidance on what, if any, immediate impacts they would face.
“It’s the fear of the unknown,” said Mayor Joseph C. Sullivan of Braintree, president of the Massachusetts Mayors’ Association.
Governor Deval Patrick and his budget chief, Glen Shor, said Monday that they had no plans to cut services, freeze hiring, or furlough employees Friday, when $85 billion in automatic spending cuts would take effect on the federal level unless President Obama and congressional leaders agree on a plan to stop them.
But members of the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation held a rally at an antipoverty agency in downtown Boston Monday, warning that children and the elderly would lose benefits, while middle-class people would lose their jobs.
State Republicans fired back, blaming President Obama and calling on the delegation to return to Washington.
Patrick, a top political ally of Obama, has been speaking out nationally about the potential devastation from the cuts, defending the president as he blames House Republicans. But when addressing reporters at the State House Monday, he struggled to single out specific effects on state services. Instead, he said the biggest impact would be felt by those who receive grants for military, medical, or scientific research.
“It’s not going to be the kind of impact that we had around the debt ceiling,” Patrick said. “But by many measures, it will certainly slow recovery at a time when we’re just starting to get traction nationally.”
The governor also suggested that some effects could be delayed, leaving time for federal officials to cut a deal.
He cited a projected $13 million loss in education money, which was included in a White House release Sunday night that detailed a variety of effects on a state-by-state level.
“There may be ways that the Department of Education can hold off the impact of those cuts from this academic year and push them off to next academic year,” Patrick said.
Shor said he generally agreed with the White House projections released Sunday, which also showed thousands of people losing access to work-study jobs, job training, early childhood education, as well as 7,000 civilian Department of Defense employees being furloughed. But Shor acknowledged that “there wouldn’t be immediate action on Friday” to state programs.
The same thing was true at the community level and for institutions that depend on grants.
Geoffrey Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said the cuts could jeopardize educational, social-service, and other programs in the coming year, while making it difficult for municipal leaders to advance balanced budgets that rely on uncertain federal aid.
Ann Scales, a spokeswoman for University of Massachusetts president Robert L. Caret, said the university system is bracing for a potential cut of $20 million to $32 million across the five campuses, primarily from research funding that would be felt most sharply at the medical school in Worcester and at the flagship campus in Amherst.
“The work of these scientists matters,” Scales said. “We’re talking about discoveries that impact the lives of people in this state and even globally.”
But the effects probably would not be felt until the next fiscal year for the university, which begins July 1, Scales said.
Even without immediate effects, there was great concern. Paul Lahti, a chemistry professor at UMass Amherst, warned of a threat to funding for graduate students and post-doctoral researchers who represent the next generation of scientists.
Lahti is codirector of a research center backed by a five-year, $16 million Department of Energy grant to find more efficient ways to harvest solar energy. The grant outfitted the center with specialized equipment and pays the annual stipends of dozens of younger researchers.
Lahti said he is worried about winning renewed funding next year and about the game of “Russian roulette” that threatens research more broadly, particularly for scientists whose grants are paid in stages and may see reductions.
“It’s the fertilizer of the future of sustainable energy research,” he said. “That’s how you make things grow; you fertilize it well.”