Patrick says state has $1 billion deficit
BOSTON -- The state faces a deficit of "at least a billion dollars" as it heads into the next fiscal year, Gov. Deval Patrick said on his first day in office Friday.
Patrick met with his cabinet secretaries Friday morning before saying the Romney administration used "all kinds of patches and plugs" to obscure a looming budget shortfall.
But Patrick also said he was confident the gap could be closed without severe program and service cuts.
"There's no reason to panic," he said. "We will have a plan to deal with that, and I think particularly as we work on how we get the efficiencies and the savings out of the way we deliver government services right now, we're going to find the resources that we need to advance a more forthright agenda."
Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom defended the former governor's fiscal practices and said Patrick's pledge to rescind $384 million worth of cuts Romney made to the 2007 budget flies in the face of Patrick's gloomy forecast for 2008.
"Deval Patrick can't have it both ways. He can't restore cuts to the budget and then claim there's a budget problem," Fehrnstrom said. "Gov. Romney balanced the budget every year he was in office, and the reason he cut spending just recently was because of the need to maintain fiscal discipline."
Patrick arrived in his office at 8:50 a.m., saying he was "a little sleepy" after a day of pomp and circumstance Thursday that saw him sworn in as Massachusetts' first black chief executive and the first Democrat in 16 years.
The new governor capped the day by hosting about 11,000 well-wishers at a black tie optional inaugural ball at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
Patrick took the oath of office at noon on Thursday in an unprecedented outdoor ceremony that spread from the Statehouse steps onto Boston Common, opening it to thousands of grass-roots supporters who helped him to a 21-point election victory.
In his inaugural speech, Patrick pledged to reorganize and streamline the executive branch "to enable our public employees to concentrate on the public service at the core of their assignments."
He has also announced he opposes Romney's new agreement with federal authorities allowing State Police to arrest illegal immigrants, and a planned elimination of tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike west of Route 128. He's has said he'll work to keep a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, advanced by a legislative vote this week, off the 2008 ballot.
Patrick asked new Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, who steps down on Tuesday as mayor of Worcester, to serve as his liaison to local governments, who have pressured him to boost their state aid.
Over the weekend, Patrick planned to spread his inaugural celebration around the state at five regional receptions, beginning Friday night in North Andover.
On Thursday, in springlike weather, Patrick was sworn in with his hand on a historic Bible held by his wife, Diane, a Boston lawyer. Slaves gave the Mendi Bible to John Quincy Adams -- the nation's sixth president -- after he helped free them for commandeering the ship "Amistad."
"I am descended from people once forbidden their most basic and fundamental freedoms, a people desperate for hope and willing to fight for it -- and so are you," Patrick said in his inaugural remarks.
Along with Massachusetts legislators and Patrick's four gubernatorial predecessors was the nation's first black elected governor, L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia, now mayor of that state's capital, Richmond. "I'm very, very happy to see this club expand," Wilder said.
Patrick and Murray greeted well-wishers in a public reception line that snaked around much of the Statehouse's second floor.
Romney, who decided against seeking a second term, did not attend the ceremonies, having made the traditional "lone walk" down the Statehouse steps Wednesday night. He praised Patrick's speech, and later opened his own presidential exploratory committee headquarters.
Patrick, 50, was raised on the South Side of Chicago by a single mother. Theresa Threets, his third-grade teacher, came to Boston for the celebration.
"I think it's wonderful. It's awesome. It's too much to really dissect that one of my children achieved greatness," Threets said.
Patrick first came to Massachusetts as a 14-year-old on a scholarship to prestigious Milton Academy. He went on to earn degrees from Harvard and Harvard Law School, served as President Clinton's civil rights chief and also worked as counsel to two Fortune 500 corporations, Texaco and Coca-Cola.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)