CT Legislators Fight Malloy’s Budget Cuts [WSJ]

April 28, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Wall Street Journal
Democratic lawmakers in Connecticut proposed a two-year budget on Monday that restores funding to developmental services, mental-health providers and higher education that Gov. Dannel Malloy proposed cutting earlier this year.

The proposed budget, approved by the Legislature’s appropriations committee, calls for $19.9 billion and $20.6 billion in spending for fiscal 2016 and 2017, about $515 million more than Mr. Malloy’s plan, which was unveiled in February.

“We feel like it’s a balanced and thoughtful approach,” said Democratic state Sen. Beth Bye, co-chairwoman of the appropriations committee.

The Legislature’s Democratic leaders and Mr. Malloy will negotiate a final budget they hope to pass before June 3, the last day of this year’s legislative session.

The committee’s budget includes $48.3 million more than Mr. Malloy’s over two years for hospitals and health services, and $91.8 million more for higher education.

In a statement, a spokesman for Mr. Malloy defended the governor’s two-year spending plan and said the cuts were important to Connecticut’s financial health.

“Our budget was filled with difficult decisions,” the spokesman said. “When you make difficult choices, it is never going to be popular or easy to swallow, but they are necessary to put our state on a stronger, brighter path.”

Not all categories saw increased spending in the committee’s proposed budget. Judicial and correctional divisions, which include courts and jails, would receive $349 million less over two years, compared with Mr. Malloy’s plan. Transportation funding would fall by $67 million in the committee budget, compared with Mr. Malloy’s.

Ms. Bye, like Mr. Malloy’s spokesman, spoke of challenging cuts that had to be made.
“There were people who deserved to receive increases and raises that we were not able to accommodate,” she said.

The appropriations committee’s budget proposal garnered some bipartisan vocal support.

“The core function of government is to protect the most vulnerable,” said Republican state Sen. Len Fasano, the Senate’s minority leader, in a news release. “The costs of fundamental programs should not be shouldered on the backs of those who can least afford it and those who already face many challenges.”

However, the only “no” votes on the committee’s budget proposal on Monday came from Republicans.

Republican leaders offered their own alternative budget last week that also restored funding for programs that the governor proposed to cut. They proposed funding it in part with a wage freeze for state employees and greater contributions from workers to the pension system, which Democratic lawmakers oppose.

The appropriations committee on Monday also offered a new interpretation of the constitutional spending cap, which limits how much lawmakers can spend on a yearly basis. The committee said long-term debt obligations like pension payments shouldn’t be included in the spending-cap calculation, a change from how they have typically been accounted for.

In February, the governor’s budget office found that its $19.7 billion budget for fiscal 2016 exceeded the spending cap by about $50 million, due to a calculation error. Ordinarily it would take a three-fifths majority in the Legislature to approve a budget that exceeded the spending cap, but appropriations-committee leaders said that minus the pensions and other long-term debt obligations, their budget falls under the limit.

Some Republicans on the appropriations committee expressed reservations about this new interpretation.

“I’m very concerned about the changes to the spending cap,” said Republican state Rep. Melissa Ziobron, a ranking member of the appropriations committee, during a budget hearing on Monday.

Ms. Bye said the committee’s proposal was part of the legislative process and added that Democratic legislative leaders and the governor’s office will have to come to an agreement on a final budget.