State elected officials make budget predictions
By G. Michael Dobbs
WEST SPRINGFIELD Area state representatives and senators asked at the annual Legislative Reception sponsored by the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield about their prediction for additional cuts to the budget ranged from hopeful to pragmatic.
Reminder Publications asked a number of the state elected officials in attendance if they believed Gov. Deval Patrick would seek to make additional cuts to the present budget and if the next fiscal year would be as dire as many have predicted.
State Rep. Michael Kane of Holyoke said that with "a new president on the way, the country seems to be more confident and revenues will come with it. Time will tell. Regardless, we are faced with a difficult decision."
Kane believes much of what will happen in the state depends on what happens on the federal level.
State Rep. Donald Humason Jr. of Westfield said the Legislature has been able to protect local aid, but when the revenue numbers are in for January and February he is sure there will be another round of cuts.
Although he noted the nation has bounced back from economic downturns, he added, "This is a time to test who you are." He noted that many people are assessing how they spend their money, including himself and his wife.
He said he anticipated the times would be hard, "but not this hard."
Calling State Treasurer Tim Cahill "his favorite Democrat," Humason also noted that Cahill had asked members of the General House not to increase the state budget and not to use any of the state's rainy day funds. The Legislature didn't take Cahill's advice on either count.
State Sen. Gale Candaras of the First Hampden and Hampshire District said Patrick has told state employees to expect further cuts, although she added it is a "wait and see" situation.
She predicted the budget for 2010 would be "very lean" because of decreased revenue from personal income tax and capital gains.
State Rep. Rosemary Sandlin of the Third Hampden District said she would really need to see the revenue numbers from December to make a prediction about future cuts and that 2010 is "totally up in the air."
She said in her district businesses are doing well, but there is a need for more education and outreach to young people about the machinists positions that are in high demand today.
Sandlin said, "We have to grow our way out of this recession," and added she believed a full recovery might be three to five years away.
Springfield State Rep. Sean Curran said, "We have to take it week by week."
Although Curran said there could be more cuts looming, Massachusetts is the "most prepared with a $1.8 billion rainy day fund."
"We'll weather the storm," he said.
Looking at the situation from the side of private business, Affiliated Chambers of Commerce President Russell Denver said he believes much of the current economic malaise has been driven by negative media reports.
"We need to differentiate Wall Street and Main Street Springfield," he said.
He readily acknowledged the economic conditions would have a "ripple effect" in the area, although it won't be as bad as it will be in other areas of the nation.
He is concerned about the psychological impact the parade of negative news is having on consumers.
State cuts will affect some of the region's largest employers, such as hospitals and state colleges, he said. He noted that state colleges and the University of Massachusetts have lost three to five percent of their budgets.
He said his holiday wish for local residents is that when they do "buy holiday gifts, buy them from a local retailer."
"A local retailer," he added, "will keep the money in circulation here."