‘Painful’ is word for state budget

Funding for Dorchester youth programs was halved in the $27.4 billion budget that hit Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk this week. Five youth programs were funded at $16.5 million for the fiscal year starting on July, down from the $34 million they received last year.

The programs include youth programs run by the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, Louis D. Brown Institute, Dorchester House, Codman Square Health Center, Catholic Charities Teen Center at St. Peter’s, Project RIGHT, and the Black Ministerial Alliance.

“It’s a very painful budget,” said state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz. “It’s a reality budget, it’s a responsible budget.”

Chang-Diaz said programs, particularly those focusing on youth violence, were saved from deeper cuts.

“None of these were 100 percent victories,” she added.

The budget, which contains just under $1 billion in eight tax hikes, $2.4 billion in cuts and $1.5 billion in federal stimulus funds, passed the Senate by a 31-8 margin and the House by a 110-46 margin, with all 21 Republicans voting against it. The tax hikes include a sales tax increase, along with meals, hotel, alcohol, satellite TV, and telecommunications property.

Republicans argue members were being given barely a day to review the budget, while the governor gets 10 days, and criticize the various tax hikes.

Patrick has threatened to veto the portion of the budget that hikes the sales tax to 6.25 percent from 5 percent, saying he wants to see ethics reform hit his desk first. Reeling from a number of Beacon Hill scandals, including the federal corruption charges leveled against former Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, lawmakers say they will have the ethics bill finished this week.

State Rep. Marie St. Fleur was the lone member of the Dorchester delegation to vote against the budget, according to the House roll call vote. She did not respond to a request for comment.

“I know none of us are happy with it,” Rep. Willie Mae Allen said of the budget. “I know I’m not very happy about it, but what can we do?”

Allen said she is optimistic of a better budget next year.

“I think things are going to change for the better,” she said.

Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry said she isn’t so sure.

“I hope this is as bad as it’s going to get,” she said.

Forry said lawmakers were faced with closing a $5 billion deficit in the budget. The budget has some good news, she said, including funding for community health centers and keeping intact last year’s funding level for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program. The program, which stocks 800 food pantries across the Bay State, was funded at $12 million.

“If we’re going to sustain some programs and help the need among us, we have to figure out how to create new revenue,” she said of the tax hikes. “It’s about compromise.”

In an e-mail to supporters, Lew Finfer, executive director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, detailed the cuts to Dorchester youth programs, noting that they could have been “much worse.”

“Without an income tax increase, these cuts will not be reversed,” he added.

During debate over its version of the budget in May, the Senate voted against increasing the income tax to 5.95 percent from 5.3 percent by an 11 to 28 margin.

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

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