State cuts hit hard in non-profit sector

For Bill Walczak, co-founder of the Codman Square Health Center, the $900 million in cuts to the state's budget that Gov. Deval Patrick announced last week are actually the second round. A number of state agencies absorbed cuts at the beginning of the budget year in July, he noted in a recent interview.

Now they're faced with even deeper cuts as Patrick moved to close a $1.4 billion hole in the state's $28.2 billion budget. Walczak said he's expecting a cut of up to $400,000 to his center, which he has run since the 1970s, but added he can't yet say for sure until contracts are renegotiated with the state.

"It's not a good situation," he said. "Mental health programs got hurt very badly. The social fabric of Dorchester has been harmed by these cuts."

Overall, Dorchester non-profits could end up losing "several million" dollars in revenue as a result of the cuts, he added.

The battery of cuts include reduced spending on low-income child care, seniors' health care, adoption and foster care in a Department of Social Services account, adult mental health and support, state facilities for the mentally handicapped, residential schools for special education, and elder home care. One account providing seniors with prescription medication assistance plunged 12 percent. Higher education accounts fell 5 percent, with the University of Massachusetts system getting a $25 million cut.

Most Dorchester programs were cut in half, lawmakers said. They include the Timilty Adult Day Health and Memory Loss Center, which provides day care to seniors struggling with Alzheimer's disease; Kit Clark Senior Services; Citizens Schools, an after-school program for middle school students; and DotWell, a partnership between Dorchester House Multi-Service Center and Codman Square Health Center.

Some items, such as the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, were shielded from cuts because they are under Attorney General Martha Coakley's office, and outside the scope of the governor's "9C" budget cutting powers.

A day after Patrick announced his slashing of the state budget, Mayor Thomas Menino last Thursday said he was instituting a trio of belt-tightening measures, including a hiring freeze, and a review of expenses such as travel, vehicles and equipment, and an evaluation of all of the city's capital spending projects.

Menino said Patrick's cuts have cost the city $4 million to $5 million so far, mostly due to grant programs such as community policing stripped out of the city's $2.42 billion budget.

But because of the new cuts, his administration may be moving the funding of some programs around to ensure the Boston Police Department has enough money to keep walking beats, Menino said.

"The people of Boston will still demand walking beats," he said. The program has proved popular in Dorchester.

Menino stressed that Boston, which has a AA1 bond rating, was "well-positioned to weather this economic storm." Property tax collections - 56 percent of the city's budget 0 remain strong, according to the Menino administration.

Whether the state will be able to weather the storm is a different question, with budget projections looking bleak, given the jarring ups and downs of the stock market over the last month.

"My hope is that it doesn't get worse," said state Sen. Jack Hart, who noted that the state has only gained back about 100,000 of the 200,000 jobs it lost after the fiscal crisis that followed Sept. 11, 2001.

"It's still up in the air," said state Rep. Marty Walsh. "Obviously, it's going to be pain spread across the board."

For City Councillor at-Large Sam Yoon, "It's the beginning of a trend that is going to get worse before it gets better."

Yoon urged voters to reject a ballot question eliminating the state income tax, because it could lead to cuts in state aid, which makes up almost a quarter of the city's budget. "A local aid cut would be a mega-crisis," he said.

Many of the governor's cuts were repeats of his budget vetoes, which Democratic lawmakers overrode by wide margins in July. Asked if they regret the overrides, they said few could have predicted the stock market crash that Beacon Hill is fingering as the cause for the budget deficit.

Walsh noted that the cuts go deeper than the overrides. "In some ways, we probably should've trimmed the budget," he said.

If they had a chance at a do-over, state Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry said the majority of vetoes would not be overridden.

"I do think this time around, 2010, 2011, we're going to have to be cautious of that," she said.

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.