Patrick cuts zoos’ budget again

Urges ‘greater self-sufficiency’

By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / August 8, 2009

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The zoo saga continues.

Governor Deval Patrick yesterday cut $1.5 million from a $5 million appropriation approved by the Legislature last week for Zoo New England, which operates Franklin Park Zoo in Boston and Stone Zoo in Stoneham.

Patrick’s veto brought the total state funding for the zoos this fiscal year to $3.5 million.

“I am confident that this level of public funding, together with increased private funding and needed reductions, will result in a manageable short-term solution,’’ Patrick wrote in a letter to the Legislature.

Patrick also noted that, as a condition of releasing the money, he was directing top administration officials to work with the zoos in developing a plan “to move toward greater self-sufficiency.’’

But zoo officials decried the latest cut, saying it jeopardizes their operations.

“The action by the governor today is disappointing in that it represents almost a 50 percent cut to Zoo New England in one year,’’ John Linehan, the president and CEO of Zoo New England, said in a prepared statement.

“This reduced level of funding also jeopardizes private sector funding opportunities [Zoo New England] needs and is striving to increase.

The Legislature initially provided $6.5 million to the zoos in its budget, but Patrick vetoed $4 million in the budget he signed, prompting a political fight among the governor, lawmakers, and zoo officials.

The zoos had argued that Patrick’s cut would require them to close their two zoos, and that some animals might have to be euthanized. House and Senate lawmakers, in a supplemental budget, then increased their funding to $5 million.

Lawmakers could decide to override Patrick’s latest veto, but they would need a two-thirds majority to do so.

Patrick yesterday also vetoed $33.3 million in other spending items approved by the Legislature.

As expected, the governor signed a $40 million appropriation that will go toward healthcare coverage for 30,000 legal immigrants, though he lamented that legislators did not approve a higher level of funding that he had initially requested.

“The failure to provide the requested level of funding imposes significant constraints on our capacity to fund health services for this population,’’ Patrick wrote.