Patrick’s budget plan would rely on casino revenue

Boston – Gov. Deval Patrick released a USD 28 billion budget proposal yesterday, banking on casino licensing fees to fund local aid and challenging his critics in the Legislature to come up with their own solutions to the state’s fiscal challenges.

„It’s better than just digging once again and even deeper into the rainy day fund. What we need are fixes that will last,“ Patrick said at a press conference yesterday.

After criticizing the Legislature for using reserves and one-time revenue to balance this year’s budget, the governor’s budget for next year draws USD 369 million from the state’s rainy day fund.

Patrick said it would be feasible and responsible to close the state’s USD 1.3 billion state deficit by using reserves and revenue from casinos and the closing of corporate tax loopholes.

„We have put our ideas on the table. It takes three of us to do this tango,“ he said referring to himself, House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, who has resisted many of his revenue-raising proposals, and Senate President Therese Murray.

Patrick’s fiscal 2009 budget relies on fees from his controversial casino plan to keep cities and towns from feeling the effect of a USD 124 million Lottery shortfall.

„I can certainly understand why the governor is taking this strategy, because there aren’t many options for raising revenue in Massachusetts right now. … It certainly makes a powerful point to the legislators when they see the local aid numbers with these revenue enhancers included,“ said state Rep. Pam Richardson, D-Framingham.

The governor said he was not worried that the doubt surrounding his budget proposals would affect municipalities as they try to plan their own budgets.

„The job is not just to take the boxes and move them all around and to recount and redistribute what we think we have in hand. Life is full of uncertainties,“ he said.

Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said making spending cuts would be a more responsible approach and that closing corporate tax loopholes would be a blow to the state’s economy.

„I don’t think (relying on casino and corporate tax revenue is) wise in either case and I don’t think the money will be available in either case,“ he said.

Despite talk that the state and the nation are entering a recession, Patrick is planning to increase spending on education, public safety and parks.

„Strong schools and a highly educated work force is our calling card in the commercial world,“ he said. „Investing in education is investing in economic growth.“

He plans to pay for new spending by controlling Medicaid costs, making state employees contribute up to 10 percent more toward their health care coverage, and more strictly enforcing tax and fee collection, among other proposals.

For a second year, Patrick is attempting to get rid of legislative earmarks that he says are inconsistent with the budget.

Those cuts, which the Legislature overwhelmingly overrode last year, include:
  • USD 250,000 for the 495/MetroWest Corridor Partnership
  • USD 35,000 for Milford United Way Youth Center
  • USD 60,000 for wetlands protection in Millis
  • USD 50,000 for Franklin Community Action Commission
  • USD 50,000 for the More Than Words Program in Waltham
  • USD 100,000 for Waltham Tourist Council
  • USD 80,000 for the young parents program at Newton Community Service Center
  • USD 25,000 for Marlborough Community Development Corp.
  • USD 50,000 for Marlborough 2010
State Rep. Stephen LeDuc, D-Marlborough, wasn’t worried about cuts to MetroWest programs, saying the governor’s budget typically serves as a starting point.

„It’s usually up to the Legislature to crunch the real numbers and put forward a spending plan with their ideas of revenue. It’s been pretty well broadcast that we’re not going to realize any casino revenue this year and the jury’s still out whether we’ll realize the corporate tax loopholes,“ LeDuc said.

LeDuc said that with slow revenue growth and the burgeoning cost of the state’s health care mandate, lawmakers are reluctantly discussing the possibility of tax hikes.

„I’ve been here 12 years and we’ve held the line pretty good on not raising taxes, but we are slowly running out of options, if not quickly,“ he said.