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Patrick urges Legislature to return; DeLeo says no

Budget could cost disabled and poor

By Andrea Estes
Globe Staff / November 25, 2009

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Governor Deval Patrick repeated his request yesterday that lawmakers return from their holiday recess to find a solution to the state’s budget crisis, saying that without emergency budget-cutting authority he will be forced to slash programs for the disabled, the elderly, and the poor.

But House Speaker Robert DeLeo did not budge, issuing a terse statement through his spokesman: “Formal sessions will resume in the first week of January, as scheduled.’’

Patrick, who addressed a conference of human service providers yesterday at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, said he has already made deep cuts in the budgets of agencies under his control and he needs legislative approval to cut $75 million from other departments such as the judiciary, constitutional offices, sheriff’s departments, and the Legislature. He also wants authority to transfer funds among state accounts.

“It’s enormously important the Legislature come in and finish their work,’’ Patrick said. “I continue to urge the legislators to come back in and do the job, finish their work, so we can manage the budget crisis together.’’

Patrick said he has instructed Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez to come up with a list of $120 million in cuts, which will probably include reductions in programs for “the most vulnerable citizens.’’ Possible victims include programs for the sight-impaired and home health aides and day rehabilitation programs for people with disabilities, he said.

Last week, the Legislature made a last-ditch effort to close the state’s budget gap before leaving for a six-week holiday break.

The deficit reduction bill passed by lawmakers made few substantial cuts, and lowered costs by only $95 million. That bill, which Patrick signed yesterday, reduced the budget primarily by transferring funds from one account to another, authorizing a tax amnesty program, and dipping into surplus funds from last year.

The Legislature’s action, combined with reductions already made by the governor, will eliminate about $480 million of the state’s projected $600 million budget deficit for this year, lawmakers said.

Patrick called DeLeo last week to urge him to bring the Legislature back into session, but the speaker did not return his call.

On Monday night, the two State House leaders were inadvertently seated next to each other at a private dinner.

According to a legislative source who requested anonymity, DeLeo gave the governor a hug and said, “Isn’t it wonderful, you and I coming together in the spirit of Thanksgiving.’’

Patrick asked DeLeo whether lawmakers were going to come back, said the source, and DeLeo replied: “C’mon.’’

“I guess you answered the question,’’ the source quoted Patrick as saying.

Andrea Estes can be reached at estes@globe.com.