LOCAL OFFICIALS woke up giddy last week. After bracing for about $150 million in mid-year cuts in state aid to cities and towns, they were largely spared by the Patrick administration. Human service providers, however, took a $82 million whack on the chin.
While there is no doubt that the cuts were a necessity, Governor Patrick should have taken greater care to spread the burden throughout the Commonwealth.
A projected $600 million gap in the state budget necessitates a lot of painful decisions. But there is little reason why municipal officials should get to relax, for a while at least, rather than scrub their school and public safety budgets for additional savings. Meanwhile, the operators of human service programs will be scrambling to maintain their gang prevention programs, homeless shelters, and child-care services.
“You have to have some notion of equity,’’ says Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. He’s right. Cities and towns should have borne more of the cuts. Many municipalities at least have the choice of adopting local-option taxes on restaurant meals and hotel rooms to bolster their budgets. Pressure on communities could be reduced even more if Patrick and the Legislature got busy granting cities and towns the unrestricted right to join the less-expensive state employees’ Group Insurance Commission plan. That would drive down health care costs for municipal workers. Cities and towns, in short, have somewhere to turn. But human service agencies that rely on state funding have their backs to the wall.
Patrick’s other cuts seem reasonable. He wants the Legislature to eliminate two hack holidays for state workers - Evacuation Day and Bunker Hill Day. That’s popular, though largely symbolic. Few voters would object to the governor’s proposed job cuts in the executive branch or his demands for $35 million in concessions from state employee unions. That’s good politics and good management.
Not so the proposal to hold cities and towns harmless. Or his plan to slash away at services for the most vulnerable citizens.