Dukakis Slashes $491 Million From Massachusetts Budget
Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts, conceding that he was causing "real pain," has used his line-item veto to cut nearly $500 million from a fiscal 1990 state budget that was already considered disastrous by educators.
Calling the action last month "the worst thing I have ever had to do in my political career," Mr. Dukakis said the cuts would hit "raw nerve and will be devastating to people and to communities."
He said the reductions were needed to balance the $12.7-billion budget in light of the legislature's reluctance to raise taxes. Because of accumulated deficits, the state's bond rating has dropped to a level lower than that of any state except Louisiana.
"The Governor felt he had no choice," said Robert B. Schwartz, Mr. Dukakis's education adviser. "Unfortunately, he had to slash away."
In trimming the budget by $491 million, the Governor cut $210 million in aid to cities and towns, about 40 percent of which is devoted to schools. The legislature voted to override the local-aid veto, but Mr. Dukakis vowed not to release the funds.
The Governor also sliced another $25 million in state aid for remediation, dropout prevention, early-childhood education, educational technology, bonuses for teachers who develop curricula, and school-improvement councils. The legislature had voted to fund those programs at or slightly below their 1989 levels.
In a "ray of semi-good news," Mr. Schwartz said, Governor Dukakis left untouched a $110-million program that provides grants to poor-perform8ing schools in low-income districts.
Steven Wollmer, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Teachers Association, said the cuts would force districts to lay off thousands of teachers.
"We were starting from a bad plateau when the $500-million boom lowered," Mr. Wollmer said. "That left wreckage on all fronts."
The mta, an affiliate of the National Education Association, had launched a $160,000 advertising campaign to mobilize public opposition to the legislature's budget. One controversial television ad claimed that Gen. Manuel Noriega, the Panamanian strongman accused of drug trafficking, would be pleased by the budget because it would drive disadvantaged youths to drugs.
Mr. Schwartz noted that half of Governor Dukakis's vetoes were "conditional," meaning that he could release the funds if revenues rise faster than expected or if the legislature agrees to a tax increase.
But he suggested that these outcomes were unlikely. The House last month approved by only four votes a temporary income-tax increase to help the state pay off past Medicaid debts and to eliminate the fiscal 1989 deficit, he noted.--rr
Vol. 08, Issue 40