Sen. Kane: “Democrats and Republicans worked well together in 2012 on the deficit mitigation plan, why not now?” (CT News Junkie)

November 21, 2014

Article as it appeared in CTNewsJunkie

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration called Thursday for cuts to the Children and Families Department, higher education, and other agencies as part of $54.6 million in rescissions, designed to help close a $99.5 million budget deficit.

The 2015 budget’s $99.5 million deficit is less than 1 percent of the general fund, which means Malloy has the authority to make decisions about where to make the cuts without input from the General Assembly. The governor can rescind up to 5 percent of any line item and 3 percent of any fund without seeking legislative approval.

Malloy can cut from the Executive Branch without approval, but he’s also asked the Judicial Branch to cut $6 million and the Legislative Branch to cut by nearly $1 million.

Of the executive agencies, the largest of the cuts outlined Thursday comes from the Children and Families Department’s board and care residential program. It’s budget will be reduced by around $6.3 million.

Both the Developmental Services Department and the Department of Social Services will have their personal services budget cut by $2 million. The Developmental Services Department will see another $2 million cut from its employment opportunities and day services program.

Sen. Beth Bye, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said the legislature has a cooperative relationship with the Malloy administration and would “work together to solve this.” But Bye said parts of the plan concerned her.

“I definitely have concerns about the $6 million cut for board and care for children under DCF care. I need to better understand what that looks like, exactly, because I don’t want anything to negatively impact our care for adolescents who have mental health and behavioral challenges,” she said.

Malloy’s budget director Ben Barnes is expected to address the legislature’s Appropriations and Finance Committees on Friday afternoon. Bye said she also is interested to hear whether any of the cuts will impact mental health services, especially services for children.

Bye said she expects to hear from the state’s universities and colleges. The plan calls for cuts throughout the higher education system.

It includes a $2.3 million cut to the University of Connecticut’s operating budget and a $1.3 million cut to the UConn Health Center. Meanwhile, the Connecticut State University System’s budget will be reduced by about $1.6 million. Transform CSCU, a program to invest in the system, will be cut by $1.2 million.

Board of Regents spokesman Michael W. Kozlowski said the reductions could have been worse.

“At first glance we are grateful for the restraint shown with respect to the Community Colleges,” he said in an email. “With respect to Transform and the BOR, any cut in this environment is painful, but we will do our part to help address the state’s current fiscal crisis.”

At a press conference before the recessions were released, Malloy said he had looked at a draft of the cuts earlier in the day. He downplayed the severity of the rescissions.

“There’s not a whole lot of major stuff. I mean, this is for a lot of budgets a 1 percent to 5 percent cut,” he said. “Again, I’ll give my example, the total budget is twenty-thousand million and we’re talking about a $100 million issue.”

Malloy said some things in the budget will remain untouched.

“Part of it also is going through and seeing where people are on their spending plan. So some of the easiest stuff to do is identify those departments that aren’t on schedule to spend their money anyway,” he said.

In a statement, Barnes said the administration was managing the budget to prevent a deficit and not raise taxes.

“These rescissions are painful for some, but tough decisions are necessary to keep the state on firm fiscal footing. State government will live within its means, and we will not raise taxes,” Barnes said. “As difficult as some of these reductions are to make now, there are more, even tougher choices as we look ahead to next fiscal year.”

Republican lawmakers said the cuts will not be adequate to address the budget shortfall. Sen. Rob Kane, ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, said the state’s fiscal problem will eventually require the involvement of the legislature.

“Democrats and Republicans worked well together in 2012 on the deficit mitigation plan, why not now?” he said.

Kane noted the cuts represent only about half the total deficit and said the administration was hoping for high sales tax revenues during the holiday shopping season to correct the shortfall.

“We can’t always work on a hope and a prayer of everything working out. You have to fix the structural problems with the budget,” he said.

Incoming House Minority Leader Themis Klarides released a statement accusing Malloy and Democrats of misleading the public during the election season.

“Clearly the Governor failed to acknowledge what everyone else who was paying attention recognized: Connecticut has a lingering fiscal crisis that was never adequately addressed either because of politics or woeful disregard for the truth,’’ she said. “This is just the first step forward that all sides must take together.’’