Massachusetts: closed until further notice?

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The beaches in Boston Harbor may close for the season. The buildings at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst may go uncleaned. And already National Guard troops and volunteers are slicing carrots and washing sheets in the state's mental hospitals.

The reason: Two weeks into its new fiscal year, Massachusetts is still without a budget. Paychecks readied July 1 for state workers are still awaiting distribution.

And the workers, fed up with legislative wheel-spinning and politicking that began in January, are fighting payless paydays by staying home in increasing numbers.

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The effect is seen vividly in a threatened work stoppage by a handful of sewage workers, which would force the state to release millions of gallons of untreated sewage into the harbor each day. It is among the pressures being brought on Beacon Hill.

Near midnight on July 12, an agreement on a bullet-biting $6.3 billion budget was announced by a Senate-House conference committee.

But the measure still needs House and Senate approval and the signature of Gov. Edward J. King. State law, however, gives him 10 days to review the document -- and no paychecks can go out until he signs.

Massachusetts usually misses its budget deadline, but not by so many days. This year, the bogy behind the agony is Proposition 2 1/2, the measure mandated by voters last November to cut property taxes. In its wake, municipalities estimated that they would need an additional $500 million in state aid (on top of last year's $1.7 billion figure) to make ends meet.

The governor's January budget proposal increased aid to cities and towns by only $37 million. In May, the House raised the figure by cutting human services but leaving the state bureaucracy (traditionally sacred to the House, which controls its patronage appointments) untouched. But an almost- successful rebellion on the House floor scared the leadership into a rewrite that trimmed 1 ,700 jobs and sent back $246 to municipalities.

Even that was not enough for the Senate, which demanded more revenue-sharing and substantially more job cuts. On June 29 -- two days before the budget deadline -- a House- Senate conference committee convened. But the House members walked out over the issue of job cuts. A week of standoffs followed, and the work stoppages began.

Seasoned State House watchers suspect that the revenue projections in the lates compromise budget may be inaccuratem -- a circumstance which could force the governor, under a proposed provision requiring him to monitor expenditures on a quarterly basis, to have to announce a tax increase as he approaches the 1982 elections.

But the governor is expected to sign the measure -- which calls for $265 million in municipal aid, between 3,000 and 5,000 layoffs, and the abolition of more th an 20 state agencies -- while vetoing some items.

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