By Etta Walsh
CHICOPEE – About 300 people turned out Thursday for the opportunity to speak face-to-face with Governor Deval Patrick, at a town hall-style forum held outdoors in the Chicopee Public Library’s amphitheater.
The forum lasted more than two hours before Patrick’s aides were able to extricate the state’s chief executive from the crowd that continued to surround him, seeking answers to questions driven by personal circumstances that they hoped had policy solutions.
Questions ranged from legalization of marijuana to abstinence-only sex education in public schools, from education reform to environmental policy on harvesting trees from state forests.
It wasn’t until after the forum ended that a news reporter asked Patrick directly if he plans any further tax hikes, to offset the Commonwealth’s tanking revenues, which fell $24 million short of estimates in July.
Patrick said no new tax hikes are planned.
“It’s a crummy time to raise taxes,” he said. “Everybody’s hurting. I certainly can’t see adding to that.” That might mean “very difficult choices” in allocating state funds to programs, “but that’s the times we’re in,” the governor said.
At one point during the question-and-answer period with one participant, who asked for additional funding for legal services for the poor, Patrick said the state’s falling revenues during the current economic downturn made that additional funding unlikely.
He said state revenues this year are $9 billion short of last year, causing steep cuts in spending on human services.
“I know there is a human face behind every one of those decisions,” he said. But even cutting every single state employee from the budget would mean “we’d still have a $1 billion-plus gap.”
“We’re not going to be able to cut our way to a better tomorrow,” he told the crowd. “But there are some early signs that we are heading in the right direction.”
(For more details on the governor’s visit, see the Aug. 20 edition of the Chicopee Register.)
Governor addresses many issues at forum
By Etta Walsh