March Madness at the State Capitol: Where Are The Budget Cuts? [Commentary]

April 12, 2011

The incredible success of the University of Connecticut Men’s and Women’s basketball teams has provided a welcome diversion for many at the State Capitol. But while the Huskies were making their stretch run, Republicans exposed some unsettling inconsistencies between the practical implications of the governor’s budget and the initial promises he made in his budget address.

Call it March Budget Madness.

The most glaring inconsistency is the list of the governor’s cuts. Senate Republican staff analyzed those so-called cuts, and they add up to $137 million. That’s nowhere near the governor’s promise of $758 million.

What’s going on here? The governor is using a host of budgetary gimmicks and he has gotten creative by expanding the definition of the word “cut.”

You see, by not increasing spending in several areas of state government to fully account for annual inflation, the governor says he is cutting spending by nearly $100 million. Other “cuts” which actually do nothing to decrease government spending from current levels include:

transferring agency equipment monies to bonding ($27 million);
removing funding for government jobs that are already vacant ($9 million);
anticipating savings from corrections officers and lieutenants that have not yet been negotiated ($10 million); and
removing rate and/or funding increases that were statutorily scheduled to occur over the biennium.

These “reductions” total $294.6 million in 2012 and $456.6 million in 2013. These are not reductions to current state expenditures. These are not cuts. The size and cost of state government will be largely unchanged.

This revelation directly contradicts the governor’s central argument for proposing a $1.5 million tax increase in the first place. He said that Connecticut’s fiscal crisis could be solved through “shared sacrifice.” State employees would sacrifice through union concessions, taxpayers would sacrifice through increased taxes, and state government would shoulder its share of the burden by vastly reducing spending.

But when all is said and done, “shared sacrifice” under the governor’s 2012 budget looks like this:

  • $1.9 billion in revenue changes, including the largest tax increase in Connecticut history, equates to 58% of the solution;
  • $1 billion in thus far unrealized labor concessions equates to 30% of the solution;
  • $137 million in net spending reductions equates to just 4% of the solution; and
  • the remaining 8%, or $294.6 million is comprised of “cuts” that are not really cuts.

This imbalance is stunning, frustrating, and for some of us, it is even maddening. But then again, there is a lot of that going around in the state this month.