GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 13, 2013

Governor signoff has local aid cuts

By Ray Lamont
Editor

---- — Gov. Deval Patrick Friday signed a new $33.6 billion state budget for the 2014 fiscal year, but in doing so, the governor also slashed $240 million in transportation funding and $177 million in unrestricted local aid that already has local officials scrambling.

“Usually, we’ll get updated local aid numbers,” Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk said Friday, “but I didn’t get any notice on this at all.”

Kirk said the impact of a local aid cut on Gloucester’s overall $90 million budget won’t be known until the state firms up a formula for the change – notably whether aid to all cities and towns will face an equal cut across the board, or whether any aid cuts would target some communities eligible for some programs but perhaps not others.

Kirk was also out front Friday calling for the Legislature to override the governor’s vetoes of the transportation and local aid spending in the weeks ahead.

If the state aid funding change becomes reality, however, the mayor said it will be a direct hit on city residents.

“No matter what,” she said, “the cut is going to throw our budget off balance, and the citizens of Gloucester are going to have to pick up the tab in terms of any difference — either through cuts in services, or through finding some other revenue source. We are going to have to monitor very, very closely to see what impact we may be facing.”

The governor’s vetoes are directly connected to an ongoing disagreement between the governor and the Legislature over the adequacy of a $500 million tax-raising bill intended to finance investments in the transportation system and throughout the budget for fiscal 2014, which began on July 1.

“Without the revenues from the transportation financing bill, this budget is out of balance,” Patrick said at a State House press conference, explaining his vetoes while also touting the potential for the funds to be restored through a future budget bill.

In addition to its reliance on new taxes on cigarettes, gas, and businesses, the budget also draws $350 million from the state’s rainy day account to maintain spending, leaving about $1.25 billion in that account.

Legislative leaders plan next week to reject Patrick’s plan to further boost taxes to fund transportation and will likely consider at least some of his vetoes this month. Patrick expressed hope that he will receive from the Legislature a “better bill” addressing taxes and transportation than the one he returned last week.

In a memo from the governor to municipal officials, Patrick said “I think you know how we got here ...”

“I support the local aid funding included in the conference budget (I originally proposed more), and I have proposed a mechanism to automatically restore the funding if the Legislature enacts my amendment to the transportation finance bill,” the governor wrote in a memo, a copy of which was obtained by the Times. “That way, in tandem with a transportation bill that provides a reliable $800 million for our transportation infrastructure, we can make good on the full amount of local aid.

I look forward to working with you to support local id and our transportation needs with the strong and reliable funding both need and deserve,” the governor’s letter concluded.