SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 12, 2012

Hearing looks at finance picture

State finance secretary: 'Structurally balanced' budgets needed

By Bethany Bray
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALEM — We’re working on it.

That was the theme of Massachusetts Secretary of Administration and Finance Jay Gonzalez’s budget hearing last night, both in his overview of state finances and answers to questions from the public about funding allocation.

Roughly 25 people attended Gonzalez’s public hearing at Salem State University last night, one of two this week to garner public feedback and answer questions on the coming year’s budget.

Gonzalez did not get into specifics or budget numbers, but kept mostly to a big-picture outlook on finances.

He spoke of building “structurally balanced budgets” to maintain a consistent level of services, through good times and bad. Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration is trying to change the culture of state government to be results-based, he said.

“We have to stretch every single one of those limited dollars we have,” Gonzalez said. “... We have to be more strategic, results-oriented.”

Patrick is expected to file his proposed budget for fiscal year 2014 in January.

When Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll asked Gonzalez about MBTA and transportation funding, his answer was that it’s a work in progress.

The MBTA cannot survive on one-time fixes, year after year, he said. The state is still having “a healthy debate” on what the preferred system is, and how to fund it.

Patrick will file a transportation proposal along with his proposed FY2014 budget in January, Gonzalez said.

North Shore Community College President Wayne Burton tried to bend Gonzalez’s ear to fund upgrades to a building on the college’s Lynn campus.

“I just happen to have a folder with (the building) plans in it,” Burton said.

Gonzalez chuckled as he accepted Burton’s folder. He ensured Burton that education funding is a priority, but also said the Patrick administration has had discussions on performance-based allocation.

Amy Everitt, a Salem State faculty member and vice president of the Massachusetts State College Association union, told Gonzalez she was wary of performance-based funding. Each school has different issues and challenges, she said.

The aim, Gonzalez said, is not to pit campuses against each other but to “raise everybody’s game.”

“No formula is perfect,” he said. “The question is, how we can get it as good as it can be.”

Gonzalez spoke informally, without a microphone or podium. He thanked the audience for coming, as well as Driscoll and state Rep. John Keenan for stopping by.

Keenan thanked Gonzalez, saying “you have the toughest job in state government.”

Gonzalez was appointed in the fall of 2009. Last night, he talked of “inheriting a mess” from the prior administration and working hard to turn things around.

Despite a recession and drop in tax revenue, Massachusetts now has the highest credit rating the state’s ever had, he said.

“I think we’ve gotten the state’s fiscal house in order,” Gonzalez said. “... Our responsibility is to manage the resources we have as best as possible.”

Gonzalez hosts a second forum with the same format today in Boston at the Charles F. Hurley Building.

Bethany Bray can be reached at bbray@salemnews.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.