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Patrick Signs State Budget, Vetoes $417 Million Transportation Bill

BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Deval Patrick vetoed more than $400 million in spending for transportation and local aid from the state budget on Friday, citing the lack of agreement with lawmakers over a separate transportation financing bill that includes new taxes needed to balance the budget.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Bernice Corpuz reports

Patrick Approves Budget

The governor said he hoped to restore the funds once the dispute over the transportation bill was resolved, but municipal officials warned of devastating consequences for cities and towns if the nearly 20 percent cut in unrestricted local aid stands, while the state's top transportation official said the MBTA might have to impose fare hikes or service reductions if the funding was not restored.

"This action will come as no surprise," Patrick said in announcing the line-item vetoes. "I have never signed a budget that is out of balance, and I am not about to start to do so."

Patrick has refused to sign the transportation bill without an amendment that would allow the gasoline tax to increase if tolls on the western portion of the Massachusetts Turnpike are eliminated as scheduled in 2017. Legislative leaders oppose the amendment, and the governor has promised to veto the bill if it is returned to him unchanged.

Patrick signed most of the $34 billion state budget Friday, but vetoed $240 million in transportation and $177 million for cities and towns.

Geoffrey Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, called the veto of money for cities and towns "a massive reduction that would destabilize local budgets all throughout the commonwealth."

Beckwith said the cut was unprecedented and would return unrestricted aid to 1986 levels, forcing communities to slash services and lay off thousands of employees, including police officers, teachers and firefighters.

"This veto must be overridden. The funds must be restored," he said.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, in a statement, strongly suggested that lawmakers would move next week to overturn the vetoes.

"The House of Representatives will protect the cities and towns of Massachusetts," DeLeo said.

Patrick did say the budget has many positive elements, including a $130 million increase in funding for public school districts, bringing total state spending on schools to a record $4.3 billion.

The spending plan also includes a significant investment in public universities and colleges, he said, moving the state toward funding 50 percent of public higher education costs within the University of Massachusetts system.

The $479 million appropriation for UMass system will head off a nearly 5 percent increase in tuition and fees that would have otherwise gone into effect for in-state students in September. Officials say tuition and fees also will remain flat for students attending other state colleges and universities.

Patrick also pointed to $15 million in new investments for early education in the budget that he said will help reduce waiting lists for early education programs, providing access for more than 1,000 new eligible children.

The state has been operating on a stopgap budget since the new fiscal year started July 1.

Patrick had sought $1.9 billion in new taxes in his original budget request, including a hike in the income tax that would have been coupled with a reduction in the sales tax.

But legislative leaders, wary of approving such a large tax hike amid a sluggish economic recovery, instead approved $500 million in new taxes, including hikes in the gasoline and cigarette taxes that were added to the transportation financing bill.

While the bill that emerged from the Legislature was smaller in scope than what he originally hoped, Patrick on Friday reiterated his willingness to compromise and "enthusiastically" sign the measure if the amendment was approved.

But if the western turnpike tolls come down in 2017 and are not replaced by alternative revenue, Patrick contends that the bill could not deliver the promised $800 million in new annual spending on transportation within five years, making it more difficult for the state to finance badly-needed infrastructure improvements.

"Plug the hole in the transportation bill, let's do it now and we can put that and this budget to rest and we can get back to work growing the economy," Patrick said.

The funds vetoed by Patrick from the budget include $115 million to eliminate the MBTA's projected deficit this year. Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey said if that money was not restored, the T would have to consider, for the second year in a row, fare hikes and service cuts.

Regional transit systems around the state also would lose nearly $50 million.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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