NEWLY elected Massachusetts Gov. William Weld (R) may well want to savor his first days as in office following his inauguration last Thursday. For, once he settles down to business, Mr. Weld faces tough political battles as he and the Democratic legislature wrestle with a mounting budget deficit, rising unemployment, and a regional recession.
Unemployment hit 7.4 percent last week, the highest in the Bay State since March 1983. Estimates of the state budget deficit for the fiscal year ending in June run from $250 million to $1 billion.
Despite the dire outlook, Weld is confident his plans to hold down taxes and slash spending will get the state back on its feet. In his inaugural address Weld - the state's first Republican governor since 1974 - issued a call for a leaner, better-managed, ``entrepreneurial government.''
``Today we are saddled with bureaucracies 50 years out of date - sluggish and centralized - in which hierarchies rule and orders are issued from the top of a power pyramid,'' he said. ``Entrepreneurial government tends to steer rather than row. It does not embark on long-term programs without gauging long-term costs.''
Weld said he will submit a spending-reform package to the legislature this month. He told a press conference last week he will propose up to $1 billion in annual cuts, and repeated his vow not to raise ``statewide taxes.'' He said some fees may have to be raised, however. In February, he will introduce a second round of reforms, including economic development measures.
``In the last two years alone $3-1/2 billion in new debt has been piled on the shoulders of Massachusetts residents,'' Weld said. ``During that same time, we have taxed our economy the way old-time doctors bled their patients, and with similar results.''
State Democratic leaders reacted ambivalently, but not critically, to Weld's address, agreeing that cuts need to be made, but noting that he was short on specifics. Many observers are already asking just what ``entrepreneurial government'' means.
Newly reelected Senate President William Bulger (D) and new House Speaker Charles Flaherty (D) say they will work closely with the Weld administration to solve the budget problems. But while Democrats generally agree that deep cuts are necessary, Weld's proposals may be in for heavy going once details are made known, especially if they hit favorite Democratic programs.
Weld's first acts were two executive orders freezing state hiring and requiring Cabinet secretary approval of purchases over $100,000.
Meanwhile, speculation about Weld's future role on the national stage has already begun. For one thing, his administration has close ties to the White House. Weld's support could be important if conservatives upset with President Bush attempt to challenge the president during the 1992 primary in neighboring New Hampshire. Weld says he will back Mr. Bush.
As the Republican governor of a state with a liberal Democratic reputation, his attempts to gain control of state spending will be closely watched, observers note. New Republican Govs. John Engler of Michigan and Pete Wilson of California are wrestling with similar budget challenges.
The inauguration ended - for now, at least - the political career of Gov. Michael Dukakis, who served more terms - three - than any other Massachusetts governor.
In traditional ceremonies, Mr. Dukakis handed Weld the key to the State House, along with a 19-century Bible owned by a previous governor and an inscribed copy of the state code. He then stepped through the center front doors of the State House, which by tradition are opened only for departing governors, and with his wife, Kitty, walked down the steep steps to Beacon Street, cheered by supporters.
Dukakis's popularity plummeted after he lost the presidential race to Bush in 1988 and the state's budget shortfall spiraled out of control. He has been criticized for appointing, in his last month in office, more than 60 associates and political allies to judgeships and posts in independent state agencies.