BY BOB SALSBERG
---- — BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick vetoed more than $400 million in spending for transportation and local aid from the state budget on Friday, citing the lack of agreement with lawmakers over a separate transportation financing bill that includes new taxes needed to balance the budget.
Patrick signed most of the $34 billion state budget Friday, but vetoed $240 million in transportation and $177 million for cities and towns.
The governor said he hoped to restore the funds once the dispute over the transportation bill was resolved, but municipal officials warned of devastating consequences for cities and towns if the nearly 20 percent cut in unrestricted local aid stands, while the state’s top transportation official said the MBTA might have to impose fare hikes or service reductions if the funding was not restored.
“This action will come as no surprise,” Patrick said in announcing the line-item vetoes. “I have never signed a budget that is out of balance, and I am not about to start to do so.”
Patrick has refused to approve the transportation bill without an amendment that would allow the gasoline tax to increase if tolls on the western portion of the Massachusetts Turnpike are eliminated as scheduled in 2017. Legislative leaders oppose the amendment, and the governor has promised to veto the bill if it is returned to him unchanged.
Geoffrey Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, called the veto of money for cities and towns “a massive reduction that would destabilize local budgets all throughout the commonwealth.”
Beckwith said the cut was unprecedented and would return unrestricted aid to 1986 levels, forcing communities to slash services and lay off thousands of employees, including police officers, teachers and firefighters.
“This veto must be overridden. The funds must be restored,” he said.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, in a statement, strongly suggested that lawmakers would move next week to overturn the vetoes.
“The House of Representatives will protect the cities and towns of Massachusetts,” DeLeo said.
Patrick did say the budget has many positive elements, including a $130 million increase in funding for public school districts, bringing total state spending on schools to a record $4.3 billion.
Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday said she’s confident the legislators “will do the right thing” and overturn it.
“I’m very disappointed that the governor has taken this position with the Legislature, we still haven’t returned to local aid numbers since 2007, we’re just starting to move in the right direction, cities and towns have worked very hard over the past few budget seasons to maintain services,” Holaday said. “We just put together the best budget we could based on what made the most sense and what was coming out of the Legislature, and the under-budget that the Legislature sent to the governor we would have been in good shape.”
“Instead of giving us a surplus and giving us a separate additional local aid allocation in September like they did two years ago, they rolled it into our local aid accounts, and that would have meant an extra $170,000 over what we budgeted for,” she added.
“I feel very confident that the legislators will do the right thing and veto this, because they know how hard we’ve worked during this economic downturn — especially after seeing the statement (from) DeLeo.”
Patrick pointed to $15 million in new investments for early education in the budget that he said will help reduce waiting lists for early education programs, providing access for more than 1,000 new eligible children.
The state has been operating on a stopgap budget since the new fiscal year started July 1.
Patrick had sought $1.9 billion in new taxes in his original budget request, including a hike in the income tax that would have been coupled with a reduction in the sales tax.
But legislative leaders, wary of approving such a large tax hike amid a sluggish economic recovery, instead approved $500 million in new taxes, including hikes in the gasoline and cigarette taxes that were added to the transportation financing bill.
While the bill that emerged from the Legislature was smaller in scope than what he originally hoped, Patrick on Friday reiterated his willingness to compromise and “enthusiastically” sign the measure if the amendment was approved.
“Plug the hole in the transportation bill, let’s do it now and we can put that and this budget to rest and we can get back to work growing the economy,” Patrick said.