BOSTON — Advocates for the homeless, substance abuse treatment, environmental protection and tourism are calling on lawmakers to reverse Gov. Charlie Baker’s mid-year budget cuts, saying the cost-trimming will hurt the state’s most vulnerable residents and hobble economic growth.
Baker said the cuts, announced Dec. 9, are necessary to offset a $98 million shortfall in the $39.2 billion budget caused by sluggish tax collections. Most cuts — about $53 million worth — target legislative earmarks for local projects and programs.
“The revenue isn’t there to support the level of funding and spending that the Legislature appropriated,” Baker told reporters recently, responding to Democrats’ complaints. “We did everything we could to protect and preserve existing programs.”
But advocates say his cuts will mean fewer beds in homeless shelters, less money for communities to battle opioid addiction, and smaller health care programs for people with low incomes.
“When shelter beds aren’t available, it has dire consequences,” said Kelly Turley, director of legislative advocacy at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, which saw about $6 million in cuts to programs. “We really need all the funding and resources we can get.”
Democratic lawmakers, who have accused Baker of using cuts to advance his agenda, are vowing to restore funding for many of the agencies that are losing funds.
Rep. Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he believes many of Baker’s cuts were premature, but he said legislative leaders need to monitor the state’s collections for the next few months before taking up a supplemental budget.
“If revenues exceed projections for the next few months, we’ll be in a position where we can consider restoring some of the cuts,” he said. “It’s going to be a balancing act.”
Elizabeth Saunders, state director for the environmental nonprofit Clean Water Action, decries more than $9 million in cuts to environmental agencies, saying it will slow efforts to preserve parks and protect waterways and wetlands.
“It’s unreasonable and irresponsible,” she said. “The governor is slashing funding at a time when the state’s environmental protection agencies are already understaffed and underfunded.”
The cuts, which don’t require the approval of lawmakers, included $7.6 million from the state’s tourism office, $6.5 million from State Police and $5.3 million from parks and recreation.
Health care advocates criticized Baker for cutting funds for MassHealth programs and signing off on a $917,000 cut to HIV/AIDS prevention work.
Ann Marie Casey, executive director of the North of Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, one of 16 regional tourism bureaus, called cuts to the tourism budget “disappointing.”
“Tourism is an investment, and if we don’t spend money on marketing to attract people to the state, they’ll just go somewhere else to spend their tax dollars. And that’s going to impact the state’s economy,” she said.
The tourism cuts jeopardize about half of the $350,000 the North of Boston bureau received this year to advertise on television, radio, online and in print. It also gets money from membership dues, which average $200 a year, and other sources.
Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, noted that despite the impact on local projects, Baker’s cuts didn’t touch aid to local governments.
“Unlike previous administrations, the governor understands that reductions in municipal and school aid have a negative impact on cities and towns,” he said. “But there will certainly be impacts on local governments from Baker’s cuts to earmarks and local initiatives.”
The Baker administration has taken other steps to find savings, such as offering a voluntary buyout incentive to public employees.
Among cuts to environmental earmarks, he axed $50,000 for a program to protect clams from invasive green crabs on the North Shore; $350,000 to eradicate invasive plant species on the coast; and $75,000 for a water treatment study in Peabody.
An earmark that provided $250,000 for monitoring and maintenance at the Crow Lane landfill in Newburyport was also axed.
Cuts to the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services included $55,000 for a new opiate diversion pilot program in Gloucester; $20,000 for the Merrimack Valley Prevention and Substance Abuse Project; and $50,000 for the Lawrence Psychological Center.
He also eliminated $630,000 for the health department’s “stop strokes” program.
In June, Baker vetoed $265 million in legislative spending, but the Democrat-controlled Legislature restored $231 million worth of cuts.
On Wednesday, the state Democratic Party waded into the debate, citing reports that mid-December revenue collections are $39 million over benchmarks.
Party Chairman Gus Bickford called on Baker to “share a list of budget cuts he plans to restore, starting with funding to combat the opioid crisis and to promote tourism.”
“Baker cannot continue to use revenue projections as a false pretense to cut critical programs he does not agree with and advance his own policies over those of the Legislature,” Bickford said.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com.