- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2003

BOSTON, Jan. 16 (UPI) — The Massachusetts Senate Thursday voted to give Gov. Mitt Romney emergency powers to slash some $200 million from the state's aid to cities and towns.

The Democrat-controlled House earlier this week overwhelmingly approved expanding the Republican governor's powers to help him address an expected $600-million deficit in the budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The Senate bill differs from the House measure in that its cuts in local aid would hit wealthier communities harder than those that are less affluent.

The House bill calls for cuts to be levied evenly among the cities and towns, but Senate leaders said that would be unfair.

Thursday's 29-8 approval in the Senate sends the bill back to the House to have the differences resolved.

Senate President Robert Travaglini said across-the-board cuts would unfairly hurt cities that rely on state aid for 70 percent of their budget, compared to communities that use 20 percent or less for their budgets.

Romney late Wednesday said he could go along with the Senate version.

"I recognize those differences and would be comfortable with the ability to use those differences to favor less wealthy cities," he said.

In considering those cuts, Romney said he hoped to keep them to a minimum as far as education is concerned.

"It is a very high priority to preserve our education system," he said.

The governor is expected to know more precisely the size of the deficit in the current fiscal year by the end of the month, when January revenues are counted.

Cutting local aid by $200 million would still leave a budget gap of some $400 million, which is expected to be made up by cuts primarily in health care and human services programs.

Once the current budget problems are resolved, Romney must present the Legislature with a proposal to balance the 2004 fiscal year, which begins July 1, when the revenue shortfall is expected to be about $3 billion.

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