Hub residents air budget cut worries at Roxbury forum

Reynolds D. Graves | 5/20/2009, 4:31 a.m.

The governor had initially planned to host his own Boston-area community forum on the budget last week as part of a series of meetings being held throughout May, but decided to double up with Chang-Díaz. The Patrick administration is hosting 36 community forums across the Commonwealth, moderated by cabinet secretaries, Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray and Patrick himself.

Panelists took a number of questions from community members, who formed a long line stretching down the center aisle in the Roxbury YMCA gymnasium.

One man expressed his concern over the $17 million in cuts to substance abuse programs, a slash of more than 20 percent to the allowance for such programs. Two young women decried the elimination of funding for anti-violence programs and cuts to youth jobs and education initiatives.

“We’re the future — why are you cutting from us?” they asked.

Introducing herself as “a product of METCO” — the heralded Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity — one woman asked about the planned $3.1 million in cuts to the program and the impact it would have on residents of the Second Suffolk, stressing her concern for others’ ability to achieve through the program as she did.

Chang-Díaz said she plans to file an amendment to the Senate budget to “match the House level of funding” for METCO, a $1.5 million increase that would bring the total budget allocation for the program to $20 million.

“METCO was cut disproportionately compared to other educational programs,” Chang-Díaz told the Banner in a phone interview.

As for bridging the $5 billion budget gap, Patrick said he plans to institute $883 million in cuts and savings, use $1.4 billion in stimulus money and tap the state’s reserve fund for $586 million, and raise $587 million in revenue. The increased revenues are expected to come from proposals to raise the sales, income, meals and hotel taxes by 1 percent each, in addition to the plan to add 19 cents per gallon to the gas tax.

“Massachusetts is in the midst of an unprecedented fiscal crisis that has made painful budget cuts to important programs unavoidable,” said deputy press secretary Kimberly A. Haberlin. “… The governor will continue to engage with the public and work with his partners in the Legislature on solutions to help the Commonwealth bridge to a better tomorrow.”