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Deficit swirls around Dukakis's `Massachusetts miracle'. OPPONENTS PREPARE TO POUNCE

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Pledges to avoid new or increased taxes are easy to make, but hard to keep. Nobody knows this better than Michael Dukakis, who has been down that route once before and has no intention of traveling it again. But as confident as the governor is, outwardly at least, that the Massachusetts fiscal ship can stay afloat without a tax boost, there will be no ``lead-pipe guarantee.''

While reaching deeper into taxpayer pockets before year's end is about as likely as Mr. Dukakis's quitting the presidential campaign, it is becoming apparent that the state is living beyond its means, and the day of reckoning could come sometime after next January.

As hard as he may try to play down the budget pinch as ``something that happens every spring,'' Dukakis can take little comfort in the increased attention this is bound to focus on him. In recent years, his biggest fiscal challenge has been one of a surplus, and how best to use it.

Obviously, much will depend on how successful Dukakis and his aides are in cutting back on state spending between now and the end of the fiscal year June 30. Latest projections from the governor's advisers indicate up to a $77 million deficit, unless substantial economies can be achieved over the next couple of months.

Adding to the budget-balancing dilemma facing the governor are considerably less-than-expected revenue collections last month, 13 percent smaller than April 1987.

Hardly more encouraging to the Dukakis administration are recent somber warnings from the highly respected Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation that the state could be $500 million in the red by June 1989.

The private watchdog agency suggests that unless this potential crisis is addressed and spending is brought into balance with revenues soon, Massachusetts could face a situation similar to 1975, when the biggest tax boost in state history, $360 million, had to be enacted.

The current Bay State budget woes must be music to the ears of Dukakis foes and critics, including Vice-President George Bush, the expected Republican presidential nominee whom the governor may well face in November.


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