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Legislators Dig Into Gov. Patrick's Budget

By Paul Tuthill

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wamc/local-wamc-954640.mp3

Amherst, MA – It has been a month since Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick sent a 30 point five billion dollar proposed state budget to the legislature. Members of the House and Senate are now digging into the details. WAMC's Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has an update ..

The legislature's Joint Committee on Ways and Means is in the middle of a budget road show . Eight public hearings were scheduled in different parts of the state including stops in Amherst and Pittsfield. The final hearing is next Friday, March 4, at the Statehouse in Boston. House Ways and Means Committee Vice Chairman, Stephen Kulik says the hearings are very helpful
Kulik says its clear that producing a balanced budget won't be easy. There is no federal stimulus money as there was the last two years, the so-called rainy day fund is about as low as officials dare to take it, and there is zero appetite for raising taxes
The state Secretary of Administration and Finance, Jay Gonzales says the governor's budget proposal is balanced and fiscally responsible
As part of more than 500 million dollars in spending cuts, Patrick proposed a 64 million dollar reduction in unrestricted aid to cities and towns. Legislators and municipal officials seem resigned to the local aid cut. They also appear to welcome Patrick's plan to clear the way for more cities and towns to join the state employee health insurance system..known as the GIC
The governor's budget includes a number of what are called reforms in an effort to save money or shift costs around.. He wants to do away with the current system of paying private attorneys to represent indigent criminal defendants. He's proposed a merger of the troubled probation and parole departments. And, eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders, could help close a state prison
State Representative Donald Humeson sasy the so-called reforms advanced by the governor's budget have consequences beyond dollars and cents .
Many legislators, including Senate Ways and Means Committee member, Michael Knapik, believe before the budget is finalized this Spring, the old issue of gambling will be re-visited
Patrick repeated this week that casino gambling is not on his agenda. But he has also said he's willing to discuss it with the house and senate leadership. Patrick said his hope is to iron out major differences privately, so that the gambling issue does not dominate the public debate. Patrick rejected a casino gambling bill last year because it permitted slot machines at the state's race tracks which he said were no -bid contracts..

Reporting from WAMC'S Pioneeer Valley News Bureau on the Campus of Western New England College, I'm Paul Tuthill..