Massachusetts lawmakers on Tuesday overrode Gov. William F. Weld's veto of an outside portion of the state's fiscal 1993 budget, easing the way for a proposed merger between two hospitals in Lowell.
The state House of Representatives overrode the veto by a 127-to-23 vote. The state Senate vote was 35-to-3.
According to Dr. Daniel J. O'Connor, president and chief operating officer of St. John's Hospital, the boards of directors of St. John's and St. Joseph's hospitals are expected to meet today to vote on the planned merger, which would pave the way for an October opening of a new facility.
Approval is virtually assured, Dr. O'Connor said, adding he is "fairly certain there will be a celebration" tonight.
"There was a lot of excitement around here on Tuesday night," he said. "Gov. Weld's veto was a bitter and unexpected pill. We were not at all hopeful that the legislature would override that portion of the budget."
When Gov. Weld signed into law a $14.2 billion budget on July 20, he vetoed a section that would have forgiven St. Joseph's Hospital of approximately $6 million due the state Medicaid pool.
State law grants the governor line-item veto power.
"Gov. Weld felt, and continues to feel, that the provision was unfair to the other hospitals in the state that made their payments to the state in a timely fashion," a spokesman for the governor said. "It would set a dangerous precedent."
A representative of state Sen. Nancy Sullivan, R-Lowell, said, "This is really a good day for the district."
"What we found particularly encouraging was the bipartisan support from our hometown legislators," said James H. Frame, president of St. Joseph's.
Mr. Frame said the override was more a condemnation of the overall hospital situation in the state than support of two hospitals' plan to merge.
"Since 1982, when the hospital reform bill was passed, it has been increasingly difficult for hospitals to upgrade or change in any way," Dr. O'Connor said. "This override may open the door to some much needed systemic reform."
The yet unnamed hospital will allow the facilities to eliminate approximately 50 acute-care beds.
"The new facility will employ 1,900 health-care professionals and allow for increased community-based projects," Sen. Sullivan said. "The problem that plagued the facilities was that there were more beds than we needed."
According to Dr. O'Connor, the two hospitals are currently paying debt service on over $53 million of public-supported debt. He said they will be able to continue to meet the debt service.