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Senate unveils budget; GOP to try to revive casinos

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Associated Press / May 15, 2008

As Senate leaders unveiled a $28 billion budget yesterday that relies heavily on new taxes and savings, Republicans pledged to file Governor Deval Patrick's casino bill as an amendment to the spending plan, saying the state needs new sources of revenues.

The move, which could breathe new life into Patrick's plan, comes a week after the governor told a Brookline Chamber of Commerce audience that his legislation to legalize casino gambling in Massachusetts "may yet come back."

Earlier this year, the House overwhelmingly defeated the casino measure, essentially killing it for the year, but Republicans say they want to give the Senate a chance to vote on the plan.

"We want to fortify the governor's efforts going forward if he intends to refile the bill in the new year," said Senator Michael Knapik, Republican of Westfield. "Plus, we need the money."

The Senate budget would use nearly $400 million from the rainy day fund and relies on hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue from a proposed $1-a-pack cigarette tax hike and the closing of so-called business tax loopholes.

Senate Ways and Means chairman Steven Panagiotakos, Democrat of Lowell, said the budget plan is fiscally responsible.

Besides the $400 million from the state's rainy day fund, the budget also relies on $175 million in projected revenues from the cigarette tax, $297 in added revenues from the business tax changes, and another $157 million from tighter enforcement by the Department of Revenue.

Panagiotakos also said the budget includes "tens of millions" in cuts.

One of the biggest question marks in the budget is funding for the state's 2006 landmark healthcare law. Senate budget writers used an estimate of $869 million to cover the law's subsidized healthcare program, known as Commonwealth Care.

But the administration's own, more current estimates have added about $200 million to the cost. That's in addition to the $200 million above original estimates for the MassHealth program.

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