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Patrick's reversal of cuts brings joy

$383.6m restored for local projects

With Deval Patrick now in the corner office on Beacon Hill, officials and community leaders south of Boston are applauding his decision to restore budget cuts made by former governor Mitt Romney.

The restored cuts statewide amount to $383.6 million. While it is difficult to estimate how much of that money was destined for south of Boston, the funds clearly benefit dozens of projects here and help thousands of people.

The affected projects range from downtown revitalization work in Stoughton, Milton, and Quincy, to a skating rink in Randolph. Workers at Bridgewater State College and those who work with the elderly will get long-awaited raises. And ratepayers in communities served by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority will get $25 million in rate relief.

In Braintree, the list of restored budget items illustrates why Patrick's reversal of his predecessor's order came as a huge relief: $100,000 for a library land purchase; $100,000 in aid to the police and fire departments; $100,000 for a town gazebo; $25,000 for the local Council on Aging; $20,000 to help close the public library's budget; and $250,000 for a flooding study in the Bestick Road area.

"We're very excited," said Sue Kay, Braintree's interim executive secretary.

At Bridgewater State College, officials were delighted the funding cuts had been restored. The college had stood to lose nearly $1 million, mostly to pay for negotiated collective bargaining agreements, including $160,000 for raises intended for the grounds crews and clerical help.

"One million dollars was a significant hardship for us," said Bill Davis, the college's vice president for administration and finance. "We're excited that will be restored."

Mark Stankiewicz, town manager in Stoughton, was happy to see $1 million restored for local public works, including traffic signals in the busy downtown, new sidewalks with brick accents, and some tree plantings.

Since the original plans called for the money to be spent by the end of the fiscal year, which is the end of June, he said he hoped the state realizes the bidding process and work would stretch out longer than expected.

The money was cut in November, when Romney, invoking his so-called 9C authority, used emergency fiscal powers to slash $450 million from the state budget, blaming the Legislature for a spending crisis. He later restored some of the cuts.

Patrick said last month that the $383.6 million in cuts hurt thousands of poor people across the state and that he would restore them. Since then, aides to Patrick said the state faces a deficit that could reach $1 billion this year.

Some expressed skepticism about Patrick's pledge and ability to restore the cuts.

"He declared there's a $1 billion gap and reversed $400 million in cuts," said David G. Tuerck, executive director of the Beacon Hill Institute, a conservative economic think tank. "It puzzles me how he can do both."

But Michael J. Widmer, executive director of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said he did not see a problem. Widmer, who worked as a volunteer co-chairman on a transition committee that studied budget issues for Patrick, said Romney was wrong to make the cuts in the first place because there was no fiscal crisis.

If there are problems this year, he said, Patrick has enough management tools to make effective cuts, such as instituting a hiring freeze. And if there are problems in fiscal 2008, the budget process is the place to deal with them.

South of Boston, meanwhile, service providers are pleased their workers will get promised raises.

Mary Jean McDermott, executive director of Hessco Elder Services of Sharon, which serves 1,200 people, most of them elderly, in 12 communities each month, said workers who earn less than $40,000 a year would get raises of roughly 2 percent, as well as retroactive pay to July.

The restored funding will affect about 25 people in her office and hundreds more elsewhere who work with the elderly doing home visits, laundry, and shopping.

"It's not tons of money, but it's nice for people," she said. "These people are the backbone of our business."

Matt Carroll can be reached at mcarroll@globe.com.

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