WORCESTER -- Almost 1,000 state jobs will be eliminated and another 1,000 are in jeopardy unless unions agree to concessions as the state moves to close a $600 million budget gap, Governor Deval Patrick's top fiscal aide said today.
Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez said the jobs in jeopardy could be saved if state employee unions agree to $35 million in concessions. The savings would be achieved through nine unpaid furlough days and officials are hoping to get agreement from the unions by Dec. 1, he said.
Gonzalez's remarks came after a speech and news conference today in which Patrick announced that up to 2,000 jobs could be cut as part of a plan to address the budget gap.
Earlier this month, Patrick had warned that jobs could be eliminated unless unions agreed to concessions. "So far they have not agreed. While we will keep talking, we cannot talk indefinitely," he said.
Patrick emphasized today that, while making cuts in other areas, he would fully protect the funding sent by the state to cities and towns for schools and other services.
"We will not cut our record investment in our students and our schools. We will not shortchange our children's future. … We will not cut local aid. Local communities are the front line of both our economy and our social life and they are struggling as it is," he said.
Patrick said he would move to make $352 million in cuts across state government, implementing $277 million in cuts across the executive branch and seeking authority to make $75 million in additional cuts in other branches of government, including the Legislature, the judiciary, and county sheriffs.
Patrick also said he would fill part of the budget gap with $60 million in federal stimulus money.
Other money-saving measures included: a $5 million cut in the Quinn Bill education program for police and asking state managers to take nine unpaid furlough days.
“The Quinn bill... is a program we must begin to phase out," Patrick said. He has asked the Massachusetts Coalition of Police and his secretary of public safety, Kevin Burke, to co-chair a commission to recommend a different program to encourage police to earn higher education degrees.
Patrick is also today filing legislation to eliminate Bunker Hill and Evacuation days as paid state holidays in Suffolk County, which he called “traditions whose time has passed" as the crowd applauded at the New England Business Expo at the DCU Center in Worcester.
It is the fourth time within a year that Patrick has been forced to make emergency cuts because tax revenues came in lower than expected. According to the governor, tax revenues for the first quarter of the fiscal year came in $212 million lower than expected.
City and town officials were concerned that the budget cuts could result in slashes to the state's aid to them, which has already resulted in a $724 million drop, or 12 percent drop in funding they receive, compared with the previous fiscal year.
With people and businesses earning and spending less in a faltering economy, the state government ends up collecting less taxes, which are vital to providing services. Patrick said the state and the nation were "in the midst of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression."
Advocates for the disabled applauded the governor's decisions to make a smaller cut than they feared in human services, and came to Worcester to show their support.
“We’re psyched,” said Leo Sarkissian, executive director of The Arc, which advocates for 180,000 individuals and families with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “No one likes a cut, but this is good. Families and advocates are thrilled.”
Cuts to human services ended up being $82 million, although advocates had expected those cuts to be as high as $300 million.
“It’s kind of like you thought you would get capital punishment, and you only got 20 years,” said Frederick Misilo, president of The Arc.
Patrick’s cuts to human services included $7.7 million from developmental disability support. As recently as last week, officials feared disability services would lose as much as $60 million in services.
“Our governor showed us he has a compassionate heart and makes his decisions based on the values of all of the people of the Commonwealth,” Gary Blumenthal, executive director of the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers, said in a statement. “We know Governor Patrick was faced with impossible choices, but he looked us in the eyes, listened to our pleas, and responded accordingly. This was a courageous decision.”
Advocates for the disabled have held a two-week vigil outside the governor’s office in an effort to make their cause fresh in his mind as he made the cuts.
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.
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