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Patrick needs to pass his first big test

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

Here are the couple of items that have been dancing through my brain this week:

So Ray Asselin now wants people to be sympathetic about the plight of his family? Was the moaning and gnashing of teeth at the sentencing hearings last week a cleverly staged last-ditch attempt for Asselin to cast himself as a victim?

Perhaps. Or perhaps it was merely the reality of his situation finally sinking in. The apologies and the demonstration of remorse should have come earlier.

The remarks made by Janet Asselin about her "good children," the ones in jail or about to go to jail showed a level of denial that was possibly a textbook example.

Let's simply repeat the facts: the Asselins stole millions of dollars of public money for years. It was their way of life. Until last week, they exhibited little or no remorse about what they did.

Stealing is still bad, right? A lot of things have changed in society, but that's not one of them.

And Christopher Asselin was in some ways the worse of them all as he used this power base to help get himself elected a further betrayal of the public trust.

I, for one, am so glad this cancer has been cut from the city. I'm sure there a few more tumors needed to be removed, and I hope the FBI and others are working on them.


Governor Patrick is heading into his first big test with the release of his proposed state budget. It's a dual-layered test at that. He needs to impress the public with his planning, and he needs to convince the Legislature that his ideas are valid.

The first might be a lot easier than the second.

Patrick's on the tightrope. He must please the people who elected him by instituting some of of his campaign promises, while at the same time appear to be fiscally responsible.

He had to close the budget gap of $800 million to $1 billion (depending upon who is speaking), as well.

So Patrick had to cut, find economies and reallocate funds.

Well, let's see what you think. Here are some highlights:

Forty-six percent increase in funding for Kindergarten Expansion Grants for a spending total of $39.5 million.

A $200 million increase in Chapter 70 education aid, enabling every operating public school district to receive increased funding. Total Chapter 70 spending: $3.71 billion.

Five and a half percent increase in Local Aid (including $77 million for School Building Authority). Total Local Aid spending: $6.04 billion.

Doubled funding for Extended Learning Time Grants. Total spending: $13 million.

Direct property tax relief through Homeowner Circuit Breaker for 100,000 qualified households.

The start of a community policing initiative by funding up to 250 officers and training. Total spending: $33.7 million.

Adds $2 million for a new, year-round employment program for at-risk youths. Total spending: $6.7 million.

Provides $4 million for Expedited Permitting Program.

Fully maintains and funds healthcare reform expansions in MassHealth benefits, eligibility and rates. Total spending: $514.4 million.

Includes $472 million for Commonwealth Care Insurance to allow nearly 150,000 residents to enroll in the program for FY08.

A $24.8 million increase for Universal Immunization Program, covering three new vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control to prevent young people from contracting serious illnesses. This funding will provide 71,334 infants with the Rotavirus vaccine, 108,188 children with the Meningococcal Conjugate vaccine, and 72,126 girls between the ages of nine and 18 with the Human Papilloma Virus Vaccine (HPV). Total spending: $61.6 million.

More efficient delivery of services to assist homeless families or families at-risk of homelessness by consolidating 11 line items into two line items for one purpose. This facilitates the transfer of funding to greatest need. Total spending at Health and Human Services: $122.1 million. Total spending at Department of Housing and Community Development: $37.9 million.

Shifts salaries for 158 workers in the Executive Office of Transportation from the capital budget to the operating budget to save 60 cents on every dollar in interest costs. This begins to address the problem of the more than 1,800 state employees who are funded through bonds.

Massachusetts is, in many ways, broken. Well maybe not broken, but we're limping along on the shoulder. This is not the time for the Legislature to grandstand for power. This is the time of people working together seeking common sense solutions for our problems.

This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments to or to 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028.