Legislative leaders eye restoration of Charlie Baker budget cuts

Boston-07/22/2016-House Speaker Robert DeLeo enters the Democratic caucus in a conference room at the State House. The legislature held a rare Saturday session. Boston Globe staff photo by John Tlumacki(metro)
House Speaker Robert DeLeo. –John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe

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BOSTON (AP) — Democratic legislative leaders pushed back Wednesday against Gov. Charlie Baker’s decision to chop nearly $100 million from the state budget, suggesting they might move next month to restore some of the spending.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo said on Twitter that lawmakers were considering filing a supplemental spending bill that would “help the neediest among us.” Senate President Stan Rosenberg said in response to DeLeo’s post that he looked forward to working with the speaker to restore funding to programs.

Baker, a Republican, announced plans Tuesday to unilaterally reduce executive branch spending by $98 million. He cited a shortfall in the state’s nearly $40 billion budget that was caused by lower-than-expected revenues and unforeseen spending obligations.

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Baker also faulted the Legislature for overriding $231 million he vetoed from the budget after it was sent to his desk by lawmakers in July. The governor said while making the cuts was difficult, he was acting now to trim spending to avoid more serious fiscal problems or the need for tax increases down the road.

DeLeo, who called the cuts “premature,” indicated that a decision on whether to seek restoration of some of the funding would likely be made in January, giving lawmakers a chance to first see how tax revenues perform in December.

State officials reported that November revenues missed benchmarks by more than $150 million, though $51 million in tax collections that would have been recorded last month were bumped into December because of a change in the state’s tax processing system.

Some of the agencies hit by the budget ax provide funding to reduce homelessness and fight opioid addiction, lawmakers contend.

George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, said Wednesday the governor’s spending reductions would “disproportionately devastate agencies protecting our environment and public health.”

The organization singled out cuts that it said amounted to 7 percent of the operating budget for the state agency that oversee state parks and forests, which has already seen its funding reduced by about 25 percent in recent years.

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A nearly $1 million reduction in state funding for programs that combat HIV and AIDS would hurt efforts to educate the public about a promising new HIV prevention tool, said Carl Sciortino, executive director of the AIDS Action Committee