Lawmakers are pressing to restore hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding for local projects that were cut by outgoing Gov. Deval Patrick, including money for the new Essex Technical High School in Danvers and for a business incubator at the Cummings Center in Beverly.
Patrick imposed more than $40 million in cuts that didn’t require legislative approval, arguing that they are needed to offset a projected $329 million shortfall in the current budget, caused in part by a drop in the state’s income tax rate from 5.2 percent to 5.15 percent in January.
His cuts included $18.7 million from regional transportation for school buses; $3.8 million from special education; $1.2 million from charter school reimbursements; and $2.8 million to fix potholes.
Patrick also axed funds for a number of small initiatives across the North Shore, which local lawmakers had spent months working to secure in the state’s current spending plan.
Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, said he is fighting to get money restored to a line item for the Essex Technical High School to help cover the cost of enrollment at the popular vocational school, which was built after merging the former Essex Aggie, North Shore Tech and Peabody High vocational programs,
Shifting students to Essex Tech, created a $700,000 gap in per-student funding that was filled by a provision tucked into a bill providing money to fix potholes, he said.
“This funding is vital,” Speliotis said. “We need to get the school back to where it was for the current fiscal year.”
Rep. Jerry Parisella, D-Beverly, said he wants to see $100,000 in funding restored to North Shore Innovations, an incubator for life sciences and bio-tech companies at Cummings Center in Beverly.
“There’s a lot of tough decisions to be made, but hopefully we can get that funding back into the budget,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, said funding for Essex Tech and other local initiatives should be restored, if possible, but he wants to ensure the Legislature looks for other ways to reduce spending.
“Simply adding money back to the budget would be missing an opportunity,” he said.
Lawmakers said one of their biggest concerns is regional transportation funds for local schools.
Speliotis and others said the Legislature has been willing to accept Patrick’s cuts to earmarks in the past because the state faced revenue shortfalls in the wake of a recession.
“As far as I can tell, this isn’t an emergency situation,” Speliotis said. “The only emergency is that he’s leaving.”
Patrick also asked the Legislature to cut state money for cities and towns by more than $25 million, $10 million from the Department of Transportation; and $21.8 million from other agencies that are outside his authority.
Legislative leaders have said they won’t consider cuts to local aid. The House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Rep. Brian Dempsey, a Haverhill Democrat, is working on a supplemental spending plan to plug the gaps.
Rep. Linda Campbell, a Methuen Democrat and committee member, said the state faces revenue shortfalls and must “proceed cautiously” as it decides what to restore.
“We need to make sure our bond rating remains as favorable as it has been,” she said. “So caution is the watchword.”
Ultimately decisions about restoring the cuts could fall to incoming Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who takes office next month.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse. He can be reached at email@example.com