- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

BOSTON, Jan. 23 (UPI) — Faced with an ever-growing gloomy economic outlook, some legislators in Massachusetts Thursday were talking taxes, a subject generally believed to be taboo as far as filling a $600-million budget gap this fiscal year is concerned.

In Connecticut, meanwhile, the failure of state worker unions to agree to givebacks and concessions to help deal with the state's estimated $650-million budget deficit has prompted the governor to order 1,000 more layoffs in addition to the 2,800 pink slips already issued.

While Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney has vowed to veto any tax bill that comes out of the Democratic-controlled Legislature, House Ways and Means Chairman John H. Rogers said after a Wednesday hearing on state revenues that taxes should be considered.

"I think they should be on the table," the Democratic lawmaker said, predicting the deficit for the fiscal year that ends June 30 could grow from $600 million to as much as $900 million. He acknowledged, however, that House members generally "do not want to entertain new taxes."

He said perhaps there should be a combination of new permanent taxes and new permanent budget cuts.

Rogers also said tax increases must be considered to close an estimated $3-billion deficit in the budget for the 2004 fiscal year that begins July 1.

Speaker Thomas Finneran said the House is "not contemplating taxes," and that the governor should be given the chance to close the budget deficit with cuts in aid to cities and towns and in human services programs.

The governor supports "restructuring state government in order to achieve cost savings and efficiencies," spokeswoman Shawn Feddeman told the Boston Herald.

Romney is to announce next week his proposed cuts, some $200 million of which are to come from local aid. The rest is to come from health and human services.

Democratic state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson said the state can't get a balanced budget by "raiding education" and "on the backs of our seniors."

She told the Boston Globe: "The reality is that the hole that we're in, we're not going to get out of this just by cutting. It's got to be a combination of cutting and revenues."

In Connecticut, meanwhile, state workers were waiting to see if their jobs would be cut.

Republican Gov. John G. Rowland, trying to close this fiscal year's budget deficit, said he has no other option than to send out some 1,000 layoff notices "in the next couple of days."

He said further layoffs could be avoided only if state worker unions agreed to concessions and givebacks.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — the largest state employee union — announced, however, that a survey found that 96 percent of its members oppose the governor's proposal for a wage freeze and increased worker contributions to health care costs.

Executive Director Sal Luciano told the Hartford Courant that union members "told us what we already know — that there is no way that they will go for the governor's proposal to balance the budget on their backs."

Rowland accused union leaders of sacrificing state employees in a high-stakes budget game.

Although 2,800 employees have received layoff notices, fewer than 2,000 reportedly have actually left their jobs.

Meanwhile, House Democrats planned to meet Thursday to discuss ways to fill a budget deficit expected to reach more than $1.5 billion in the next fiscal year.

Under consideration are proposals to increase the state income tax on residents earning more than $250,000 a year, a reduction in the $500 property tax credit, and cuts in local aid to cities and towns.

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