Lame Duck Dukakis Cuts Pet Programs

Massachusetts is broke; people are angry and eager to resort to the ballot - a letter from Boston

PEOPLE are getting angrier by the day over this state's budget mess. In the last 15 months, the state budget has been cut six times. The pink-slip machines have been running overtime. But the economy keeps slowing down, and the red ink keeps getting deeper. Vituperative radio talk-show hosts get callers screaming about ``hacks'' and ``fat'' in government.

The ``throw-the-bums-out'' fervor spread to the Sept. 18 primary, in which voter turnout was the highest since 1962. In the gubernatorial race the Democratic winner was John Silber, a maverick whose tough campaign style overshadows his basic liberalism. The Republican nominee is William Weld, a conservative who supports the Citizens for Limited Taxation initiative, which would roll back the tax rate to 1988 levels. The aim: to produce cuts of such magnitude that state government would have to be totally restructured.

As state economy continues to slow, revenue keeps falling short of projects. Lame-duck Gov. Michael Dukakis, who rightly or wrongly has been blamed for the state of the economy, has had to make budget cuts because the state constitution prohibits deficit financing. The latest is a $310 million deficit-reduction package.

People are stunned and outraged at what's being cut. Every day new reports appear about people fighting to keep another program alive.

The Work Force Unemployment Prevention Program in Cambridge got axed. This innovative program works in housing projects to provide a variety of assistance to kids starting at age 13. It's been around six years and was just awarded $100,000 by the Ford Foundation for being one of the 10 best government programs in the nation. On the day the program director was to fly to New York to receive the award he learned that the program had been canceled.

The Metropolitan District Commission, which provides a range of services in the greater Boston area, announced that the cuts may force it to close the Franklin Park and Stone Zoos. If that happens, animals will have to be given or sold to other zoos around the country. The zoo director says that any remaining animals might have to be destroyed. Just last September, the zoo, which had been spruced up after years of neglect, opened a $26 million tropical rain forest section to widespread acclaim.

The cuts may also result staff reductions at MDC skating rinks and parks. The Blue Hills Reservation, a swath of green within sight of downtown, with stables, a nature museum, and ski lift, may be left without staff and vulnerable to vandalism and fire.

Some officials are using the courts to reverse the cuts. Springfield Mayor Mary Hurley says she's going to sue Governor Dukakis over the proposed shutdown of the Holyoke Soldiers' Home. Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn is threatening to sue the state for cuts that may put 400 people on the streets because of the closure of shelters for the homeless.

Meanwhile some real waste has come to light, and people are acting on it. The Boston Globe recently published an expos'e of district court judges who were regularly knocking off after barely a half-day at the courthouse, despite the extraordinary caseload brought on by increased arrests for drugs and possession of guns.

The ``Half-Day Judges'' were only part of a larger systematic failure that included years-long delays and light sentences after swift trials. Dukakis says he plans to file legislation to increase the power of the top administrative judges to discipline trial judges.

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