BOSTON (State House News Service) – Democratic legislative leaders want Gov. Charlie Baker to pump the brakes on expected midyear budget cuts that could be announced before the end of the week, casting doubt on the urgency of making adjustments in the state budget signed in July.
The administration on Oct. 14 identified a $294 million gap between anticipated revenue collections for fiscal 2017 and budgeted spending. But the leaders of both the House and Senate on Monday concurred in their assessment that Baker may be moving too fast to make emergency budget cuts.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito met for over an hour on Monday as Baker was away in New York City. Though DeLeo said he has not raised his concerns directly with Polito or the governor, he reiterated concerns voiced over the weekend in a televised interview that cuts should be delayed until more information is available.
“My feeling is until we have a better feel in terms of the budget ahead that 9c cuts probably should be held off, and I’m not saying for an exceptionally long period of time,” DeLeo told reporters Monday with Polito listening beside him.
Rosenberg backed up DeLeo’s assessment.
“I concur with the speaker’s view on this that we’re moving too fast and cutting too deep at this point if we’re basing this on being eleven million dollars under revenue year-to-date, and so I think we should slow this down a little bit because it’s going to cause a lot of dislocation,” Rosenberg said.
After the first three months of the fiscal year, the state has collected $6.18 billion in tax revenues, only $11 million shy of its benchmark. But earlier this month, Administration and Finance Secretary Kristen Lepore lowered revenue estimates for the year by $175 million and projected a $294 million budget gap due to underfunding by the Legislature of other accounts in the budget.
The administration in July vetoed $265 million in spending from the fiscal 2017 budget, but watched the Legislature override $231 million with a net effect of $219 million on the budget’s bottom line.
“There’s no question with the number of overrides to the vetoes that we presented create a gap that we need to close and we’ll be providing further information by Friday on how we will do that,” Polito said as she listened to the House and Senate leaders question the administration’s approach.
Last week, the administration opened a one-month window for employees to take part in a voluntary buyout program to reduce staffing across state government. Polito did not have numbers to offer on how many employees have opted to take the buyout so far, but said the finance team would make a determination on layoffs after the buyout window closes on Nov. 14.
Additional budget cuts, however, could come sooner, and Baker has said he doesn’t want to wait until January because it becomes harder to trim the budget later in the fiscal year when more money has already been spent or committed.
“Obviously when managing all our budgets we want to make sure that the services to those that need help the most, particularly through departments like the Department of Children and Families, that we’re at service levels that will protect the kids under the care of our state and in any budget exercise we are mindful of making sure the departments that serve the most needy in our Commonwealth are protected,” Polito said.
Baker has already said that local government and school aid, funding for DCF core services, higher education, the court system, the Department of Mental Health, pensions, debt service and the budgets of the other four constitutional officers will be off limits as he considers cuts.
DeLeo said he agrees with the governor that the state shouldn’t wait too long to make cuts if it’s confident the revenues won’t materialize, but based on conversations with House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey and his staff he doesn’t believe the situation has reached that point.
“What I’m saying is right now, with the information that’s been provided, I’m not sure if we’re quite there that 9c cuts are necessary,” DeLeo said.
Rosenberg noted that the legislative conference committee that negotiated the fiscal 2017 budget in July already cut $450 million in proposed spending from earlier versions of the budget as tax collections began to crater in the final months of the last fiscal year.
“So adding another 300 million on top of that on the basis that we’re short $11 million year-to-date seems to me to be too aggressive,” Rosenberg said.