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Gov. Patrick Unveils $32.3 Billion State Budget

By Bob Salsberg, Associated Press
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Gov. Deval Patrick (credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Gov. Deval Patrick (credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Deval Patrick sent lawmakers on Wednesday a proposed $32.3 billion state budget for the next fiscal year that would eliminate 400 state jobs, close a state prison and make other cuts in programs while increasing overall state spending by about 3 percent.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030′s Lana Jones reports.

Patrick said the spending plan was balanced and fiscally responsible, adding that Massachusetts continues to face major fiscal challenges despite the state’s improving economy.

The budget asks the Legislature to approve $260 million in new revenues, including a 50 cents-per-pack increase in the state tax on cigarettes. It also proposes that the state use $400 million from its stabilization fund, also known as the “Rainy Day” fund, still leaving the fund with a balance of more than $1 billion.

The governor promised his spending blueprint for fiscal 2013, which begins July 1, would continue the state’s investment in key areas such as education, job creation and reducing youth crime.

“Under this budget, Massachusetts will create more jobs, further reduce the cost of health care, bring us closer to closing the achievement gap and build safer communities for our families,” Patrick said

The spending plan calls for saving $30 million through 400 layoffs or the elimination of vacant positions in the executive branch of state government.

It also would save $8.9 million by closing the Bay State Correctional Facility in Norfolk, a medium-security lockup which has a current capacity of 320 inmates, according to its website.

Other proposed cuts would include $15 million for the Registry of Motor Vehicles, which the administration said could result in curtailed services at registry branches.

The budget also makes several proposed cuts in human services programs, including low-income child care vouchers, teen pregnancy prevention and elder nutrition.

“Our new fiscal reality requires that we change the way government does business,” said Jay Gonzalez, state secretary of administration and finance.

The filing of the budget by Patrick is only the first step in a lengthy process leading to final approval of the spending plan for the next fiscal year. Both the House and Senate will pass their versions of the spending plan, then will resolve differences before sending a final budget to the governor to be signed.

Budget writers agreed earlier this month on an estimate of $21.9 billion in tax revenues for fiscal 2013, representing 4.5 percent growth over the current year. But officials warned that the additional revenues would be largely swallowed up by increases in health care spending and other fixed costs.

The state is also expected to lose about $114 million in the next fiscal year as a result of an automatic cut in the state’s income tax from 5.3 percent to 5.25 percent that went into effect on Jan. 1.

Some details of the budget had been released by the administration over the past several days, including the proposed hike in the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products that is projected to raise $73 million. That money would be set aside to pay costs associated with a recent ruling by the state’s highest court that legal, non-citizen immigrants are eligible for the state’s subsidized health insurance program.

The revenue plan also calls for making candy and soda subject to the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax and expanding the bottle deposit law to include other beverages such as sports and fruit drinks. The governor made similar proposals a year ago, but they were not included in the final version of the budget passed by the Legislature.

Patrick is also seeking to eliminate several corporate tax deductions or loopholes and seeks to raise additional revenue through fee hikes, improved tax enforcement and selling advertising on some state government websites.

The governor also previously announced several proposed spending increases, including a $10 million increase for the state’s community college system as part of a plan to centralize the management of the colleges and bring them under a single budget line item.

He has also proposed a $10 million increase for its “Gateway Cities” program aimed at boosting student performance in many of the state’s most financially strapped cities, and an $11 million increase for veterans services.

The administration announced last week that it would propose a $145 million increase in state assistance for school districts, bringing the level of so-called Chapter 70 funding to its highest level ever. But officials also informed municipal leaders that they would likely receive no more than the same amount of unrestricted local aid next year as in the current fiscal year.

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Associated Press writer Steve LeBlanc in Boston contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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