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Top lawmakers reject Patrick’s proposal to cut local aid

Top lawmakers made it clear Thursday that they will not back Governor Deval Patrick’s proposed $25.5 million midyear cut in aid to cities and towns.

Explicit opposition from House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and implied resistance from Senate President Therese Murray snuffed out any hopes the administration may have had that the state Legislature would approve the reductions as part of a larger effort to close a $329 million budget shortfall.

Lawmakers have been working to rebuild local aid as the state pulls out of the recession. And they are generally loath to chop funding for schools, libraries, and police forces in their hometowns.


“Understanding the vital role cities and towns play in providing services and jobs, I will not support a reduction of unrestricted local aid,” DeLeo said in a statement.

A Murray spokeswoman said the Senate president had heard from members of the upper chamber who oppose the cut. And with the Legislature in informal sessions through the end of the year, a single lawmaker has the power to block the governor’s proposal.

Legislators could gavel in a formal session before January, but observers say that is highly unlikely.

The rejection of the proposed local aid cut punches a sizable hole in the governor’s plan to address the $329 million shortfall for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

There are three major components to that plan.

Patrick’s budget team has identified $74 million in unanticipated state and federal revenue to help close the gap.

The governor is allowed by law to make certain unilateral cuts. And he is using that authority to chop $198 million from mental health services, environmental protection, and a wide range of state services.

Patrick is asking the Legislature to approve $58 million in additional cuts to round out the package — including the $25.5 million in unrestricted local aid, which cities and towns can use for a variety of purposes.


The governor’s budget chief released the three-part plan late Wednesday. On Thursday, lawmakers were scrambling to find out which of their pet projects might be affected while interest groups sorted through the damage to their policy priorities.

George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, said environmental protection has been repeatedly shortchanged in recent years and is taking outsized hits in the governor’s midyear plan.

“While we recognize that everybody needs to take a budget cut, we are consistently taking disproportionately steep budget cuts,” he said.

Environmentalists hope to do better going forward, Bachrach said. This fall, his group urged gubernatorial candidates to make environmental protection 1 percent of the state budget if elected. Republican Charlie Baker, who won the election and takes office in January, pledged to meet that goal during his first term.

Al Norman, executive director of Mass Home Care, a network of nonprofit organizations that cares for seniors in their houses, took issue with Patrick’s $1.5 million in cuts for in-home help.

He said the reductions are shortsighted since the services help keep seniors out of expensive nursing homes. “The folly of all this is home care is one of the few programs where the return on investment is immediate,” he said.

Even with the $1.5 million midyear cut, though, funding for the program remains higher than it was last year.

The Patrick administration declined to comment on the home care and environmental reductions. But the governor can impose the cuts on his own. The fate of his $58 million legislative package is far less clear.


If the $25.5 million in local aid cuts is dead on arrival, his call for $22 million in reductions to state agencies beyond his control — such as the attorney general’s and secretary of state’s offices and the state lottery commission — will face at least some opposition.

Treasurer Steve Grossman said he is willing to take a proposed 1.5 percent cut to his own office. But he objects to about $1.4 million in proposed reductions to the lottery commission, which he chairs.

With staff levels already low, he said, the commission cannot let go of workers. Instead, Grossman said, it would have to stop printing certain scratch tickets, potentially leading to millions in revenue losses.

Lottery proceeds help to fund the local aid lawmakers are committed to defending.

The governor’s budget office did not comment on the proposed lottery cuts. But officials pledged, broadly, to work with lawmakers on any adjustments to its legislative package.

“Balancing the state budget is a collaborative process,” Glen Shor, the state’s secretary of administration and finance, said in a statement. “Yesterday we put forward the Patrick administration’s solution to closing our budget gap. We look forward to seeing what the Legislature proposes, and to working together to ensure fiscal stability for the Commonwealth.”

David Scharfenberg can be reached at him on Twitter @dscharfGlobe.