Dukakis Pledges a 'New Beginning,'Accepts Blame for State's Fiscal Woes

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Accepting responsibility for his state's severe fiscal problems, Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts last week used his 12th and final State of the State Message to call for "a new beginning."

In his speech, Mr. Dukakis outlined few specific proposals in education or other areas. Instead, he focused on his past accomplishments and mistakes and on vaguely worded plans for his final year in office.

Except for a brief reference to the need for "international education," the Governor said little about the state's public-education system, which has been drastically affected by a slowing economy.

Instead, Mr. Dukakis recapped his 1988 Presidential campaign, and apologized to the legislature and citizens for his role in creating the state's budget crisis.

His "lousy" campaign for President resulted in the state's taking ''an unfair beating," he said. The Governor added that he realized many lawmak4ers and citizens are "angry with me" because of his inattention to the state during the campaign.

"It's clear to me now that I underestimated the amount of time and energy it takes to seek the modern Presidency," Mr. Dukakis said. "Trying to do two jobs at the same time was more difficult and more grueling than I expected."

He also said it was a mistake to try to expand government services at a time when the state's economy was growing more slowly than expected.

Mr. Dukakis's proposed budget for fiscal year 1990, which he released at the beginning of last year, was $13.5 billion. That was 12 percent greater than his proposed budget for the previous year. State tax collections, however, grew by only 0.26 percent in the last half of 1989.

Fiscal Regrets

The Governor acknowledged last week that his fiscal 1990 budget should have been more modest.

Last year was "a time to pause, to consolidate, to make sure that we were getting value for every dollar we were spending before we spent more," he said.

The state's budget was in a downward spiral for much of the year. Revenues repeatedly came in far below the administration's predictions, and the Governor and legislature disagreed over whether raising taxes or cutting costs was the way to a balanced budget.

In the end, both were necessary. The state has instituted new taxes and fees and drastically reduced spending across the board in order to close a $1-billion deficit.

Public education in the state has been forced to make some "disastrous" cuts in the past year, according to one education lobbyist. The budget deficit has caused hundreds of teacher layoffs and the elimination of thousands of local education programs. (See Education Week, Oct. 18, 1989.)

Despite the state's ongoing troubles--the legislature still has not given final approval to a tax-increase package designed to help balance the fiscal 1990 budget--Mr. Dukakis maintained he was "very bullish on Massachusetts."

The state must seek new markets for its products and services, he said. He emphasized the need for the state to "'go international' with a vengeance. Not just in a business sense, but in our schools as well.''

Mr. Dukakis stressed the need for more study of geography and foreign languages. International education "must become a permanent part of what we teach," he said.

Mr. Dukakis is expected to release his budget for fiscal 1991 this week.

Vol. 09, Issue 18

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