Senate May Slash Budget; DiMasi Trial Continues

By Sarah Birnbaum

May 23, 2011

BOSTON — This week on Beacon Hill, lawmakers will take up the Senate Ways and Means Committee’s budget plan for the fiscal year that begins in July. Meanwhile, the corruption trial of former House Speaker Sal DiMasi enters its third week of testimony.

The chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee says the state is facing one of its worst fiscal challenges ever. The budget that comes before the full Senate on Wednesday would slash millions of dollars from direct aid to cities and towns. It would reduce support for needy families and make deep cuts to the arts. Thousands of poor children would see their annual clothing allowance drop from $150 per year to $40 per year. There would also be fewer subsidized summer jobs for low-income teenagers.  And community orchestras and dance troupes would lose funding.

The budget also includes the Senate’s take on a controversial plan to let cities and towns reduce their employee’s health insurance benefits. When the House passed a similar plan last month, public employee unions across the state were furious. Unions seem to like the Senate version better, but observers still expect some heated debate towards the end of the week.
Also this week, Governor Deval Patrick could be called to the stand in the trial of former house speaker Sal DiMasi. The ex-speaker is accused of taking kickbacks in exchange for steering two lucrative state contracts to the software firm Cognos. If called, Patrick is expected to testify that DiMasi directly lobbied him on behalf of the firm. Prosecutors say they could wrap up their case by Friday.

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