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Patrick vows to restore all of Romney's emergency budget cuts

BOSTON --Gov.-elect Deval Patrick said Wednesday he would restore all the remaining emergency budget cuts made last month by outgoing Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, saying they were premature and harmful.

The cuts included reductions in spending to public higher education, social service programs, public safety, early education and health care.

Romney cut $425 million from the state budget without the approval of the Democrat-controlled Legislature, saying the state couldn't afford the spending. He later restored about $41 million after November revenues came in higher than predicted.

Patrick, who is vacationing in South Africa this week, said in a statement he decided to restore all the spending after he takes office next week.

"Overwhelmingly, these broad-based cuts, especially coming mid-year, have a serious negative impact on thousands of Massachusetts residents who have planned for the relief and relied upon the services these programs provide," the incoming Democrat said.

Patrick said Romney also made cuts he wasn't allowed to, including Massachusetts Water Resources Authority sewer rate assistance, the Rose Kennedy Greenway project in Boston and a 2002 collective bargaining agreement with officials at the University of Massachusetts.

Eric Fehrnstrom, the governor's communications director, said restoring the cuts will cause fiscal problems for the state not just during 2007, but into 2008 because the bulk of the restored cuts will carry over, while only a fraction are one-time increases.

"Gov. Romney made those reductions in order to maintain fiscal discipline," Fehrnstrom said. "To the extent that those cuts are restored it's going to be that much harder to achieve budgetary balance in 2007 and 2008."

Republican House leader Rep. Brad Jones said Patrick's decision is a worrying sign for how he might deal with tough budget decisions after taking office.

"It seems to me to demonstrate a lack of ability to prioritize spending," said Jones, R-North Reading. "It's like I can't pick and choose so we'll do it all. That should be a cause for concern. It's a flashing yellow light."

Jones also said the restoration of all the cuts doesn't leave any room for other unexpected spending, such as a big winter storm.

Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and co-chairman of a working committee on Budget and Finance appointed by Patrick, said the decision to restore the cuts makes fiscal sense.

Widmer said he agrees that the state shouldn't use savings to cover routine spending during a fiscal recovery, but added that he doesn't think that will be necessary.

"We think revenues will grow sufficiently to cover this level of spending without drawing on reserves," Widmer said.

Patrick has come under intense pressure to restore the funding. Earlier this month, about 1,000 social workers and human service providers converged on Beacon Hill to demand either Patrick of Romney restore the money.

Patrick said higher than expected revenues so far this month makes it possible to undo the cuts.

He said tax revenues for the fiscal year, which ends in June, are up more than $300 million above the original estimate, and the cuts may be restored without having to dip into the state's savings accounts.

Fehrnstrom disputed the number, saying the surplus was closer to $100 million, not $300 million.

Patrick's incoming Secretary of Administration and Finance Leslie Kirwan said the new administration will look for ways to save money during the second half of the fiscal year, including holding down hiring and limiting transfers among state accounts.

If those don't work, Kirwan said she will recommend, "as a last resort, that the Legislature transfer funds from the stabilization fund to cover any deficiency."

"Should that occur, I do not believe the Legislature will be required to transfer as much as anticipated when the budget was enacted," she said. The Legislature had planned to draw as much as $550 million from state savings accounts to balance the budget.

Patrick defended his decision to restore the cuts, saying the state still faces tough budget decisions in the future.

"I do not take this action lightly," Patrick said. "While we support the initiatives agreed to for the current fiscal year, it is critically important for Massachusetts residents to understand that next year's budget will be tight."

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