House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said today that House lawmakers plan to restore funding for Zoo New England, which could stave off the closure of two zoos in Greater Boston.
“With the amount of calls that I’ve gotten from the membership, I dare say that this is one of those items that I think will be overridden,” he said at a State House press conference.
This afternoon, Senate President Therese Murray released a statement suggesting the Senate would do the same.
“We have received numerous calls and emails advocating for the restoration of the funding for the zoos," Murray said. "By law, the House of Representatives must pass any overrides first. In this case, if that occurs, it is likely the Senate will take similar action.”
Minutes before DeLeo spoke, Governor Deval Patrick, who has taken heat for reducing a state subsidy for the zoos in this year's budget, lashed out at zoo officials for suggesting last week that the facilities -- the Stone Zoo, in Stoneham, and the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston -- may have to close and that some animals may have to be euthanized.
“I do think that the public needs to know that the claim that animals in the zoo are going to be euthanized was false,” Patrick said. “And I think, frankly, the zoo is going to have to take some responsibility for that.”
He continued, “It doesn’t help to have the situation, which is tough enough, exaggerated in order to stir up the public – and, frankly, me -- around some very, very difficult choices.”
Strikingly, zoo officials have refused to make any public comment after firing off letters to lawmakers and a statement to reporters claiming that animals would be killed if they didn’t get the money they needed.
“These are very difficult choices,” Patrick said. “But I can’t answer every false charge that’s out there and this is clearly a false charge. And I think the zoo needs to take some responsibility for that. We want to work with the zoo to try and ensure the continuation of this wonderful attraction.”
In an unusual move, Patrick held a second press conference this afternoon, where he sharpened his rhetoric on the zoos.
“I have to tell you that I am disappointed by some of what I have heard coming out of Zoo New England, and their exaggeration of the effect of these reductions in their budget, when we are asking them to do no more than what we are asking every other state agency -- and frankly what most families in the commonwealth are having to ask of themselves – and that is to learn to live within more limited means for the time being," he said.
“Everybody is having to sacrifice," he continued. "And nobody has ever been talking about shutting the operations down and euthanizing the animals. And I think it was unhelpful and irresponsible to suggest otherwise.”
Patrick said there were a variety of ways for them to save or generate money -- including eliminating discounts or free passes, or consolidating -- but he did not endorse any one approach.
“I can’t tell them how to make their choices, all I’m saying is that everyone is having to make choices," he said. "And that the zoo, in effect, insisting that they should be held harmless when every family in the commonwealth is having to make these choices is just unreasonable.”
Patrick also said it would be unwise for the Legislature to override his veto of the funding for the zoos.
“I understand the Legislature has a process, and that process has to be respected," he said. "But like I said, this budget is full of choices, most of them difficult, some of them miserable.”
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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