Wednesday, January 15, 2003

BOSTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) — Gov. Mitt Romney, with Massachusetts facing a possible $600-million deficit this fiscal year, was one step away Wednesday from getting unprecedented emergency budget-cutting powers.

The House Tuesday night overwhelmingly approved and sent to the Senate a bill putting the responsibility for making unpopular cuts in local aid squarely on Romney’s shoulders.

The Senate was expected to complete action on the measure Thursday.

“I appreciate the hard work of the House in getting a timely decision made,” Romney said after the vote.

“The House should be commended for recognizing the serious fiscal situation the state finds itself in,” Romney spokeswoman Shawn Feddeman said.

While voting for the bill 124-28, House members also placed restrictions on the emergency powers, limiting them to this fiscal year that ends June 30.

Under the bill, the Republican governor could use cuts in local aid to make up a third of the projected shortfall — about $200 million.

He also is required to make the cuts evenhandedly among cities and towns. Deep cuts in local aid will not be popular, but cities and towns have to share in reducing spending because of the financial situation the state is in, House Speaker Thomas Finneran said.

“In the end its up to the governor what choices he thinks best,” Finneran told reporters.

Romney requested the emergency measure to make cuts in local aid because current law only allows him to cut spending generally in the areas of health and human services, which have already seen their budgets sliced.

Romney has vowed not to raise taxes to deal with the budget shortfall in the current fiscal year, but that option is expected to be on the table for fiscal 2004, which begins July 1, when the deficit is expected to balloon to about $3 billion.

Meanwhile, in his State of the City address Tuesday night, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino called on the state to give him power to raise local taxes to help make up for a reduction in state aid.

Saying Boston is the “economic locomotive of the Massachusetts economy,” Menino said his city “needs a new deal” from the Legislature.

He pledged to cut municipal spending and warned union leaders not to expect raises. Many of the city’s unions, including police, are working without contracts.

He also called on the federal government for help.

“We need a real stimulus plan, not just more tax cuts,” Menino said. “We need a new urban Marshall Plan from the only place we can get it — the federal government.”

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