ANDOVER – Democratic State Sen. Barbara L'Italien lashed out at Republican Gov. Charlie Baker last week for $98 million in cuts aimed at balancing the budget ahead of a projected revenue shortfall.
Baker cut $100,000 from the state budget that Andover officials had planned on using to develop the town’s historic mill district. L'Italien said he also cut $84,500 from the state Parks and Recreation department to staff Berry Pond, located in North Andover in Harold Parker State Forest. A popular swimming beach, it was reopened last year for the first time in nearly a decade after Baker and a local non-profit provided funding for lifeguards and upgrades at the swimming facility.
“This is a failure of leadership by Gov. Baker,” said L’Italien. “By unilaterally cutting funding for Andover’s Historic Mill District, the governor has shown that he does not care about investing in a centerpiece of Andover’s economic future.”
The town planned to use about $30,000 of the money to hire a consultant to develop design standards to set the groundwork for the mill district’s renaissance. The mill district is comprised of roughly 100 acres lined with properties around the downtown train station that have been targeted for new housing, shops, professional offices and restaurants.
Officials hoped to use the remainder of the funding to redesign and improve the dangerous intersection of Pearson, Essex and Railroad streets in the mill district near the train depot.
Town Manager Andrew Flanagan said the town would "work to find an alternative funding source for the development of the design guidelines."
Baker spokesman Garrett Quinn said the earmark was eliminated through the governor's 9C cuts, which are allowed under state law.
According to MGL Section 9C of Chapter 29, when "projected revenue is less than projected spending, the Governor must act to ensure that the budget is brought into balance."
The earmark for the Mill District planning money, Quinn said, "was filed as part of the Mass. Office of Travel and Tourism line item, historically the most heavily earmarked line-item in the budget."
Earmarks are used by legislators to add items to the budget for their district.
L'Italien said Baker also cut $84,500 from the state budget that was to pay for staffing at Berry Pond in Harold Parker State Forest.
Quinn responded, however, that Berry Pond would remain fully staffed.
"The Baker-Polito Administration reopened Berry Pond this summer for the first time since it closed in 2009," he said. ":It was fully staffed this summer. The earmark referenced in the legislator’s press release will have no impact on the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s commitment to maintain services at Berry Pond in 2017."
Baker said the so-called 9C cuts are the result of sluggish state revenues. Senate and House leaders, however, said they do not believe the cuts are necessary at this time, with seven months left in the fiscal year for state revenues to rebound.
Baker made $98 million in unilateral spending cuts Tuesday in the $39.25 billion fiscal 2017 budget despite a growing economy and unemployment rate at a 15-year low. In addition to soft revenue growth, the governor said the accounts he cut are not affordable given the certainty of spending in other, underfunded state budget accounts.
The net savings from Baker's cuts to earmarks totaled $53 million because of revenue loss associated with some cuts, according to a Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation analysis.
Governors can make such cuts unilaterally without requiring the consent of the Legislature.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka criticized the governor for the recent cuts, and the speaker and Senate President Stan Rosenberg have expressed a willingness to potentially pass a new spending bill restoring funding.
Ranging in size and scope from $7.4 million for pediatric hospitals to $10,000 for weeding Floating Bridge Pond in Lynn, the earmarks usually represent priorities of individual lawmakers often with a more parochial focus than other areas of state spending.
The Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, which Sacco ran in the Swift and Romney administrations, was the line item that received the second largest cut, falling from $8.9 million to $1.3 million. Cuts to earmarks within that line item stripped $200,000 from the Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield, $25,000 earmarked for attracting a major championship to the Ponkapoag golf course in Canton, and $75,000 for public safety at the Head of the Charles Regatta.