Mass. groups concerned with cuts to local aid

Dec 6, 2012

Amid the uncertainty of the fiscal cliff and declining state revenues, this week Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick proposed a series of mid-year budget cuts to close a half-billion dollar gap in state funding. WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau Chief Lucas Willard spoke to some that are concerned about the cuts.

Governor Patrick used his authority to propose emergency cuts in the state’s budget to close a $540 million gap in funding. And many are hoping that some of the governor’s planned cuts can be avoided.

The Massachusetts Municipal Association is calling against the Governor’s proposal to the legislature to expand his “9C” authority that would allow him to cut $9 million in Unrestricted General Government Aid. Though only a 1% cut, Executive Director Geoff Beckwith said that the cities and towns have already done their part to reduce their spending after a significant decrease in local aid since the start of the Great Recession.

In anticipation of the fiscal cliff and to make up for recent shortfalls in state tax revenues, Governor Patrick is seeking to withdraw $225 million from the state’s stabilization account – leaving $1.2 billion available for emergencies.

But In order for the Governor to use any so-called “rainy day” funds he would require legislative approval. Democrat 4th Berkshire District State Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli says that he would support a slightly larger withdrawal from the stabilization accounts to avoid the cuts to local aid.

For the cuts that can be made without legislative approval in a fiscal emergency, $28.75 million will be cut from reimbursement programs, including support for special education, school transportation, and other programs.

Kelly Turley, Director of Legislative Advocacy at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, said it’s unfortunate that funding for a program that helps transport children of homeless families to school will be cut. The funding was nearly cut in half by $5.2 million from the allocated original $11.3 million. Turley did say though, that she wasn’t surprised because the program was in its first year.  

State Rep. Pignatelli, who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, said he hopes Congress and the President can work out a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff and it’s automatic spending cuts before the end of the year, but said whatever the outcome, legislators will have their work cut out for them in the coming weeks.