NEWS

Gov. Patrick leans on casino fees in $28B state budget proposal

Lindsey Parietti

Gov. Deval Patrick released his $28 billion budget Wednesday, 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.

After criticizing the Legislature for using reserves and one-time revenue to balance this year’s budget, the governor’s second budget draws $369 million from the state’s rainy day fund in fiscal 2009.

Patrick called his plan to close the state’s $1.3 billion state deficit with reserves and uncertain revenue from casinos and the closing of corporate tax loopholes, feasible and responsible.  

“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 budget relies on fees from his controversial casino plan to keep cities and towns from feeling the effect of a $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,” Rep. Pam Richardson, D-Framingham, said.

The governor said he was not worried that the doubt surrounding his budget proposals would impact 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 re-count 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 an economic recession, Patrick is planning to increase education, public safety and parks spending.

“Strong schools and a highly educated workforce 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.

Lindsey Parietti can be reached at lindsey.parietti@cnc.com.

MetroWest Daily News