Senate Budget Cuts: The Question Isn't If, But How Much

By Sarah Birnbaum

May 26, 2011

BOSTON — The state Senate is well into its second day of debate on its budget for the next fiscal year, which begins in July. Budget cuts and municipal health costs are emerging as the bigger sticking points in debate.

Cuts were on the docket for Day One of deliberations on Wednesday. The Senate budget plan calls for $30.5 billion in overall spending, which is slightly lower than the budgets put forward by the House and the governor. The Senate proposal contains no new taxes and it would reduce local aid to cities and towns by $65 million.

Democratic Senator Pat Jehlen of Somerville says that loss of funding would be keenly felt. “There is real pain in this budget for our communities and our families. And despite our efforts, cuts continue in human services, public health, environmental safety, higher education, local aid and more,” Jehlen said.

But Senate Ways and Means chairman Steven Brewer of Barre says the budget plan protects the state’s most vulnerable residents. He says that, in drafting the budget, he tried to preserve key services like adult day care, veteran services and domestic violence programs.

Democrats shut down Republican measures to roll back the sales tax and to create a permanent sales-tax holiday. But senators approved $3 million to boost funding for summer jobs for at-risk youth.

Sen. Gale Candaras of Wilbraham said that while it added to the bottom line, the measure deserved stronger consideration than piecemeal tax cuts.

"That's simply a matter of setting priorities that many is us who represent our cities have set, where gang violence is destroying our quality of life," Candaras said.

Senators will continue to debate amendments to the budget plan over the next few days. All differences between the House and Senate budget proposals will need to be settled by a conference committee before being sent on to the governor.

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