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In the news: Deval Patrick

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Patrick budget includes plans for $300M in casino revenues

Jay Lindsay

The Patrick administration announced plans last weekend to file a budget that uses $300 million in as-yet nonexistent casino revenues to provide property tax relief, pay for infrastructure improvements and increase state aid to cities and towns.

Patrick’s proposal for three casinos in Massachusetts still faces a tough trip through the state Legislature, and the Commonwealth may never see the millions in revenues Patrick envisions.

But state Secretary of Administration and Finance Leslie Kirwan emphasized that under Patrick’s plan, the budget would be balanced without any casino revenues because the casino money is used for new initiatives, not required expenses.

If the gaming money isn’t there, the proposals won’t be funded, she said.

Kirwan added that “game-changing recommendations” like Patrick’s gaming proposal are needed to close the state’s persistent budget gap, estimated at $1.3 billion next year. Showing how the money could be used could give momentum to Patrick’s plan, she said.

“That’s not the intent of putting it in there, but if that’s an outcome, then that’s a good outcome as far as we’re concerned,” Kirwan said Saturday.

Some State House leaders, notably House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, have been cool to the governor’s proposal. One of DiMasi’s top allies, House Ways and Means chairman, Rep. Robert DeLeo, said last Saturday that Patrick’s proposal to use casino revenues was premature.

“Forget the cart — this is putting the entire wagon train before the horse,” said DeLeo, D-Winthrop. “Moreover, even if this money did become available this year, which is a big if, it may not be there the next year. Then we would have done nothing to really help … cities, towns and property owners.”

Patrick’s plan is the initial blueprint for the state budget for the 2009 fiscal year that starts July 1. The House and Senate will submit their own plans, and leaders will eventually work out a compromise plan, which may or not include casino revenues.

Patrick has made various proposals in an attempt to close the anticipated budget gap, including a plan to close corporate tax loopholes. But none are bigger or more controversial than his plan to build three casinos — one each in the Boston area, southeastern Massachusetts, and western/central Massachusetts.

The governor estimates the casinos could bring in $400 million in annual revenue and create 20,000 permanent jobs.

The announcement is part of stepped-up efforts to push the bill by Patrick, who last week won support for the bill from union officials.

Patrick’s budget plan calls for using $300 million of the $800 million in expected casino licensing fees.

It would use $124 million to make up a shortfall in lottery aid that cities and towns were expecting, but are not required to receive. The remaining $176 million would be split in half, with $88 million going for property tax relief and $88 million for municipal transportation funds and infrastructure.

Kirwan said the plan is a modest, responsible way to help meet the state’s obligations.

“If we don’t do some new things on the spending side and on the revenue side, we’re going to continue to face this troubling budget gap,” she said.

(Associated Press)