Governor Charlie Baker said Tuesday that he is unilaterally slashing $98 million from the state budget to remedy what his administration says is a gap between projected revenue and authorized spending.
Cuts will touch a wide swath of government programs. They include health care for the poor, suicide prevention, the State Police crime laboratory, literacy programs, state parks, and the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services. But the total amount of spending being axed is small compared to the $39 billion budget.
The move immediately drew blowback from the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said the cuts are “premature,” as tax revenues are about on track with expectations. (As of November, they were 0.2 percent below projections.)
“It seems that the administration is seeking to achieve policy objectives that have previously been rejected by the Legislature through its unilateral use of 9C cuts,” DeLeo said, referring to the section of law that gives Baker the authority to make cuts without lawmakers’ sign-off. “Recent revenue numbers indicate a need to be vigilant; they do not, however, necessitate cuts at this time.”
Baker vetoed $265 million when he signed the budget in July. But the Legislature restored $231 million of that spending by overriding many of his vetoes. Many of the cuts made Tuesday were items Baker had vetoed during the summer.
And the majority of the spending slashed Tuesday is what the Baker administration characterized as “earmarks,” pet projects inserted into the budget by lawmakers.
Senator Karen E. Spilka, an Ashland Democrat who is the chamber’s budget chief, said Baker’s cuts will have real consequences for cities and towns struggling with opioid addiction and housing.
“Governor Baker’s action today cuts important programs, including approximately $6 million in reductions to homelessness and housing, $1.9 million in cuts to substance abuse prevention programming, $900,000 in cuts to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment services, and $400,000 in cuts to services for terminally ill children,” she said.
So why the cuts?
The GOP administration cited the veto overrides and less-than-expected revenue and said several programs, like the state’s massive Medicaid program for the poor and the Department of Correction, are going to need more funding to maintain services.
“Today, we are acting to put the budget back in balance for the hardworking people of Massachusetts as provided under 9C authority in response to softening revenues, unavoidable spending deficiencies, and the Legislature’s decision to restore spending above the administration’s signed balanced budget,” Kristen Lepore, Baker’s budget chief, said in a statement.
And the cuts may not be the last for this fiscal year, which runs from July through the end of June 2017.
Eileen McAnneny, president of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said this fiscal year has been particularly challenging.
She cited a budget that did not fully account for known costs, such as funding for lawyers for indigent defendants; higher-than-expected costs for the Medicaid program; and lower-than-expected revenue growth.
“So it is not unexpected that the administration took action to actively manage this deficit,” McAnneny said. “It is unclear whether these latest actions will be adequate, given the many fiscal uncertainties that remain.”