- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2003

BOSTON, Jan. 13 (UPI) — Massachusetts's lawmakers on Monday debated whether to give Gov. Mitt Romney emergency powers to deal with a current fiscal year budget deficit.

Romney wants the broad new powers to cut state aid to cities and towns in an attempt to save $200 million in the current fiscal year.

Romney has said it is only fair for cities and towns to share in the pain of massive budget cuts to help deal with a "worst case" deficit of $600 million in the current fiscal year.

The projected deficit for the 2004 fiscal year, which begins July 1, is as much as $4 billion.

Unless legislators grant him the power to cut local aid, Romney has said he will have to cut deeper into human service programs, which have already suffered deep cuts.

Under state law, only legislators can cut local aid unless the governor is given new powers.

Romney has also said he would consider supporting local tax hikes and fees on state services to help close the deficit, but has ruled out violating his no-new-taxes campaign pledge.

"We will move aggressively to bolster additional fee revenue as quickly as we can to generate additional revenue," Romney said.

The House was to caucus Monday on the emergency-power request with the Senate taking up the issue later this week.

House Speaker Thomas Finneran and Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Therese Murray, both Democrats, said they were leaning toward giving Romney such powers, temporarily.

Democratic Senate President Robert Travaglini said local aid cuts "seem to be inevitable," but that it is "controlling the depth and severity of those cuts that is the challenge we're confronted with."

Mayors from cities and towns across the state protested, saying cuts in local aid would force them to lay off teachers, police and firefighters.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has proposed legislation to allow cities and towns to raise taxes on such items as restaurant meals, movie tickets and parking garages.

Mayors in smaller communities, however, said the Boston bailout plan would do nothing for them.

"There's nothing there for us," said Edward Clancy, mayor of Lynn.

Springfield Mayor Michael Albano said local aid cuts would force layoffs that would be "devastating" to his school system.

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