- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

BOSTON, Jan. 24 (UPI) — The Massachusetts governor is asking for free television time to try to sell his budget-cutting proposals to the public, it was reported Friday.

In Vermont, the new governor presented a balanced budget with spending cuts but no new taxes, while Connecticut lawmakers considered higher taxes on the middle-class and wealthy to address a budget deficit.

Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney was waiting Friday for a response from Boston's major television stations to his request for free air time Wednesday night.

Romney wants to explain emergency cuts and other proposals to deal with an estimated $600 million deficit in the budget for the current fiscal year that ends June 30.

He is expected to outline some $200 million in cuts to cities and towns and proposals to make up the rest by reducing spending for health and human services programs.

The Legislature last week voted Romney emergency powers to make the cuts, but various interest groups are urging him to dip into state reserve funds to cover the current shortfall.

At present there is about $1 billion in reserve funds.

"It's perfectly reasonable and fiscally sound to look at reserves in a situation like this," Stephen E. Collins, executive director of the Human Services Coalition, told the Boston Globe. "They're talking about cuts that are going to affect kids, elders, vulnerable populations."

Romney has said he is reluctant to draw from reserves now because they might be needed for the fiscal year that starts July 1 when the state faces a possible $3 billion deficit.

Romney is also facing pressure from factions urging the budget gaps be filled with new tax money.

"No one loves the idea of taxes but we've got to realistically look at what our options are," Democratic state Rep. Jay R. Kaufman told the Boston Herald.

In Connecticut, Democratic lawmakers are proposing higher income taxes on couples earning $100,000 a year or more to help solve that state's estimated $650 million budget gap.

Higher wage earners would see their tax rates increase even more.

The proposal also calls for increasing the cigarette tax by 40 cents per pack and imposing a 15 percent temporary tax on corporate profits.

Republican Gov. John Rowland said this week he would veto any bill that fails to close the budget gap with 50 percent in spending cuts and 50 percent in tax increases.

To close the $650-million gap in the current year, the Democratic plan calls for $375 million in tax increases, $175 million in budget cuts, and $100 million in union concessions, the Hartford Courant reported.

Vermont's new Gov. James Douglas presented his first budget proposal Thursday, calling the $3.4 billion balanced spending plan "responsible, forward-thinking and compassionate."

Despite millions in lost tax revenues, the former state treasurer called for no new taxes.

The Republican said a projected deficit of $30 million would be addressed by a reduction in government spending.

"I have asked most department heads to find savings of 5 to 10 percent of their prior year appropriations in order to prevent even greater sacrifices by the public," Douglas said.

He also announced initiatives to provide low-cost loans for farmers, entrepreneurs and small businesses, as well as new spending to bolster education, improve infrastructure and fight drugs.





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