- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

BOSTON, Jan. 17 (UPI) — The Republican governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut received opposite levels of support Friday from Democratic-controlled legislatures for budget-balancing efforts.

While Massachusetts lawmakers have granted Gov. Mitt Romney unprecedented budget-slashing powers, Connecticut legislators are vowing to replace Gov. John G. Rowland's plan with their own that depends more on increased taxes than on budget cuts.

In both states, the governors are seeking to slice some $200 million from budgets because of revenue shortfalls.

The Massachusetts Senate late Thursday voted to give Romney greatly expanded powers to cut local aid that cities and towns had expected to receive by the end of the fiscal year that ends June 30.

The House earlier this week did the same, although its bill differed somewhat from the Senate measure. Those differences were being ironed out and the completed legislation could be on Romney's desk sometime Friday.

The Senate version gives Romney wide discretion to make the cuts, including hitting affluent communities harder than poorer ones. The House bill had called for even-handed cuts to all. While that provision was stripped from the Senate measure, Romney late Thursday said he would follow the "intent" of the House version.

Romney, who has to deal with a $600-million deficit for the current fiscal year, planned to meet with his Cabinet secretaries Friday to formulate strategies to make emergency cuts within the next two weeks.

Romney said his "highest priority" was to make cuts that had as "little impact as possible" on the state's most vulnerable citizens.

In Connecticut, Rowland favors a plan to address the $200-million shortfall half through budget cuts and half through tax increases.

Democrats, however, said they would schedule a vote next week to reject Rowland's proposal and offer instead their own plan that depends more on tax increases and less on cuts.

A gubernatorial spokesman said Rowland would veto any proposal that is overly tilted toward taxes, according to the Hartford Courant.

Rowland's proposed cuts included eliminating general-assistance welfare for single men and an insurance program for adults who have no health insurance.

As part of Rowland's efforts to make up for lost revenues, Friday was the last day at work for an estimated 1,800 laid off state workers.

Rowland has said that when he unveils his budget for the next two years on Feb. 19, he plans to propose far deeper cuts as the state faces an estimated $1.5-billion deficit.

He has also called for upping the cigarette tax by 40 cents a pack and instituting a tax on those who make more than $1 million a year, proposals that are supported by Democrats.





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