Dem Party Pounces On Baker Plan To Fix State Budget

Charlie Baker, Stanley Rosenberg, Robert DeLeo
(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 4, 2015…..As Gov. Charlie Baker aims to trim spending and get state government to “live within its means,” Massachusetts Democratic Party officials on Wednesday took aim at the new governor over his budget-balancing approach, including a $40 million cut to transportation accounts.

“Gov. Baker is only one month into his administration and yet again he’s broken another promise to voters,” Democratic Party Executive Director Matt Fenlon said in a statement. “During the campaign Gov. Baker called himself a ‘weed whacker,’ and he’s already showing disregard for the people behind every line item he cuts.”

Baker (R-Swampscott) inherited the budget mess in early January and has spent the first weeks of his term working on plans to rebalance a spending plan drawn up by Democratic legislative leaders and former Gov. Deval Patrick during an election year.

“Massachusetts finds itself in a $768 million sea of red ink precisely because of the broken promises and out-of-control spending by Democrats on Beacon Hill,” Kirsten Hughes, chair of the state Republican Party, fired back in her own statement.

“For them now to complain about the tough decisions Gov. Baker is having to make to clean up their mess, especially as we learn today of the lavish pay hikes doled out to top Democratic staff by Speaker DeLeo, strains credulity,” she added, referencing a Boston Herald report on House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) raising salaries for some staffers.

Baker and his budget chief Kristen Lepore on Tuesday announced $514 million in spending cuts as part of a plan to plug a $768 million hole in the fiscal 2015 budget, which ends on June 30. Nearly 300 budget line items were cut.

Baker on Tuesday pointed to his plan not including raising taxes, spending down the state’s savings, or reducing local aid to cities and towns. Lepore added that the cuts are focused on administrative savings and programs that haven’t gotten underway, and will have a “minimum impact on core state services.”

Democratic Party officials pointed to cuts in funding related to substance abuse and gang prevention and the state party called $40 million in transportation cuts the “most glaring…a fact magnified by the transportation paralysis over the past few days following Baker’s failure to properly manage transportation oversight during the most recent snow storm.”

A large part of the transportation cut comes through not filling job vacancies, Lepore said Tuesday.

According to a Baker administration spokesman, the governor’s budget fix cuts the MBTA by $14 million. Of that, $5.3 million comes from a hiring freeze and $3.3 million from administrative cuts. The rest — $5.4 million — is from unanticipated revenues that came through a 1.5 percent ridership increase.

The MBTA had a $1.9 billion budget in fiscal year 2015.

The rest of the cut – $26 million – comes from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation: $5 million in administrative cuts, $5 million in materials and equipment, $4.6 million saved from a hiring freeze, and $11 million in unanticipated revenue from fees.

DeLeo said Wednesday he had not yet reviewed the governor’s proposal in detail. Rep. Brian Dempsey, last session’s House Ways and Means Committee chair, is preparing an analysis for him, DeLeo said.

Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Jamaica Plain Democrat, said the framework for the cuts, known as “9C,” appeared “concentrated on the most vulnerable populations in our state.”

“There was plenty to not love in the 9C cuts,” she said after members of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus met with Baker on Wednesday morning.

Chang-Diaz said they ran out of time during the meeting with Baker and were not able to discuss the 9C cuts.

“It was positive, it was constructive,” she said of the meeting.

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