Gov. Deval Patrick defended his budget priorities Friday as he looks to hit Massachusetts residents with tens of millions of dollars in new taxes and force major layoffs by cutting local aid.
One important question that has risen amid the grim budget cuts is whether Patrick has done all he can to cut state spending before layoffs and new taxes for everything from hotel stays to alcohol.
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Patrick has two offices in Massachusetts — one at the State House and the other in Springfield.
But he also has a full-time office in Washington, D.C. that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to run each year, which raises some eyebrows about how necessary that office really is.
Patrick has trimmed the budget for the D.C. office but not its full-time staff.
The governor says the office is critical for raising money, saying its four employees have brought “billions of dollars to Massachusetts.”
But some Republican leaders are calling for Patrick to make more cuts as towns and cities face losing teachers, firefighters and police officers.
Patrick says his four Washington, D.C. employees work for the interests of Massachusetts on Capital Hill.
But with the current budget crisis some Republicans and taxpayers are raising questions.
“Because I’m seeing police officers, firemen, and administrative staff across the Commonwealth being laid off,” said Rep. George Peterson (R). “And I don’t see his staffing levels going down in his office. He needs to set an example.”
400K TO RUN D.C. OFFICE
For this fiscal year, Patrick cut his Washington office budget to $367,000, including 4 full time staffers.
But that budget is set to go up to $403,000 in fiscal year 2010 with the same level of staffing.
Peterson raises the point that the interests of Massachusetts are well represented in Washington, and that Patrick’s office there isn’t necessary.
“We have 10 Democratic congressmen and two U.S. Senators that are both Democrats, working with a Democratic president and Congress,” Peterson explained. “They should be able to do their jobs.”
PATRICK DEFENDS OFFICE
“Can you explain to people why you need to spend $400,000 on the office in Washington, D.C.?” WBZ’s Karen Anderson asked Patrick Friday.
“Well, let’s see. We just successfully negotiated a Medicaid waiver worth -– how much was it –- 21, 22 billion dollars,” Patrick said. “We’ve been very involved in the economic stimulus bill, which I hope is going to bring some relief.”
Patrick says right now he is getting a very good return on his Washington, D.C. investment.
“Those four people have brought billions of dollars to Massachusetts,” Patrick said.
Patrick’s staff told WBZ the governor has already cut $1.3 million from his staff.
The President of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation said having a presence in Washington, D.C. is an important thing and doesn’t think four staff sounds outrageous. But he said fewer people at the office would be reasonable under the current financial circumstances.
The National Governor’s Association said at least 30 other U.S. States have offices in Washington.
New Hampshire is one of the states that does not have an office in D.C.
Republicans point out that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had only one employee at his office in Washington, D.C.
The Massachusetts office in Washington has been around since the Dukakis Administration.
To help balance the state budget, this year and next year, Patrick is relying on more than $1 billion we don’t have yet from President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan.
The House has approved it and senators vote next week. Analysts say if it passes Massachusetts will be in line for $6.5 billion over the next two years.
We could see about $5 billion in tax cuts and other benefits. That money could save or create more than 90,000 jobs in the state.
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