Budget deadline is flying under citizens' radar

Patrick set to ink document but few may notice

Perry King (left) and his uncle, David, talked about the state budget at Amrheins Restaurant in South Boston yesterday. Perry King (left) and his uncle, David, talked about the state budget at Amrheins Restaurant in South Boston yesterday. (YOON S. BYUN/GLOBE STAFF)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Megan Woolhouse
Globe Staff / July 13, 2008

Perhaps you will be lounging at the beach or grilling burgers when the event occurs.

Today at 4:15 p.m., Governor Deval Patrick is scheduled to undertake one of the most important duties of his office: signing the state's $28.2 billion budget. With the flourish of a pen, he can fund or veto hundreds of projects. Patrick and his staff have declined to offer any clues as to what might be cut.

And the suspense on the streets?

"I wasn't even aware they were going to do it," Perry King, a registered Republican, said yesterday from his perch near the bar in Amrheins Restaurant in South Boston.

"It's late again," said his uncle, 80-year-old David King, a lifelong Democrat, with a wry grin.

A committee of six lawmakers - three from the House and three from the Senate - met privately for several weeks in June, emerging from those discussions on July 3 with a budget, missing the state's July 1 signing deadline. The governor has 10 days to review their proposal and make his decisions.

The deadline is today, a warm summer Sunday.

"The governor has taken the statutory 10 days to review the budget, and it just happened to fall on a Sunday," said Kyle Sullivan, a Patrick spokesman. "Particularly in light of the uncertain economic climate, it is important we take as much time as possible to look for savings and efficiencies throughout our budget."

As to what those might be, Sullivan didn't say. And in a city that is largely on vacation, not many seemed to be tuned in.

"I wonder how many people care," said Michael MacDonald who lives in Hopkinton and yesterday was in South Boston helping his daughter move into a new condo.

MacDonald said he saw such an increase in his taxes this year that he looked at the state budget online to see where the money was going. He noted how many legislators have pet projects for their districts tucked into the budget, spending often referred to as "pork." MacDonald wondered whether Patrick would eliminate them.

One budget item calls for $200,000 to be disbursed to the Boston Symphony Orchestra for renovations at Tanglewood.

There are many more.

Halifax is slated to get $25,000 for its 275th July Fourth celebration next year, and $300,000 is scheduled to go to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield.

But MacDonald said he doesn't imagine much in the way of political consequences if Patrick leaves the budget intact. He said he recently e-mailed several state politicians asking them to lower the state speed limit as a way to conserve gas. He got no response.

"This is July, it's 85 degrees and people are down at the beach," he said. "There's nobody around."

Patrick signed into law this month two measures that will bring hundreds of millions in revenue to the state.

On July 3 he signed a major corporate tax package that will prevent businesses from declaring some of their profits in states with more favorable tax rates. The budget also will rely on a $1-per-pack increase in the state's cigarette tax, which is expected to bring in $174 million and uses more than $500 million in reserve funds.

Also at stake in this year's budget is funding for Medicaid.

The state has also been negotiating with federal officials over extending a Medicaid waiver that helps subsidize coverage for low-income residents. The waiver was scheduled to expire June 30, but federal officials have allowed for a two- to four-week extension for more negotiations. The state budget assumes the negotiations will come out in the state's favor; if they do not, it could create a budget gap of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Sullivan said yesterday that Patrick met with Mike Leavitt, the US secretary of health and human services, to discuss the negotiations this weekend during his visit to Philadelphia for a national conference for governors.

The proposed budget has prompted some analysts such as Michael J. Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, to refer to the current budget as "very risky."

For some yesterday, it seemed more like a nonevent.

Seated next to her husband at Amrheins bar yesterday, Mary MacDonald said she wanted Patrick to eliminate tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike, something not addressed in the current budget.

"I'm upset about the tolls," she said. "It's always people from the western part of the state that end up paying."

But that's part of a separate budgeting system, said Sullivan, and is under the jurisdiction of the Turnpike Authority.

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at

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