Malloy bristles at criticism of cuts (JI)

October 2, 2015

Journal Inquirer

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Tuesday left open the possibility that he would consider “serious” alternatives to the budget rescissions he made this month, but also defended his administration’s stance on funding cuts to hospitals and criticized Republicans for not presenting realistic alternatives.

Malloy also said he made Democratic legislative leaders — including House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, who criticized the cuts in a letter Monday — aware of his intentions a month ago. “I told them upfront that it would involve the things that it involved,” Malloy told reporters of his conversation with Sharkey and other Democratic leaders.

Malloy has been facing criticism from all sides since he announced $103 million in rescissions two weeks ago amid concerns about reduced revenue due to Malloy calls Republican proposals to balance budget ‘not serious’

Republicans last week called for a special legislative session, and while Democratic lawmakers have not been receptive to the idea, they have also raised concerns about the impact of a $63.4 million reduction in Medicaid reimbursements to hospitals. The loss becomes $190 million when combined with a drop in federal aid.

Sharkey, D-Hamden, said in a letter Monday to Senate Minority Leader Leonard Fasano, R-North Haven, that many Democrats were worried about local community hospitals after approving the budget in June and fought to increase funding during this summer’s special session.

Malloy said he informed Sharkey about the cuts, which also included a $20-million reduction in municipal aid.

Gabe Rosenberg, a spokesman for Sharkey, rebutted the governor’s claim, saying Malloy told Sharkey only about municipal aid.

A Malloy spokesman, however, insisted later Tuesday that the governor had, in fact, conveyed details of all his cuts.

“The governor made clear to leaders directly the proactive cuts to balance the budget on Aug. 26, including hospitals,” the governor’s spokesman, Devon Puglia, said.

Malloy also told reporters he’s willing to listen to alternative cuts, so long as they didn’t appear political in nature. Sharkey indicated in his letter to Fasano that Democratic lawmakers were working on a proposal.

“They can make recommendations before, they can make recommendations during, they can make recommendations after,” Malloy said. “I take serious thoughts from serious people all the time.”

When asked to clarify what would constitute a “serious” proposal, a point he made twice, Malloy disparagingly referenced the alternative budget proposal that Republicans presented in April. That proposal restored many of the cuts in Malloy’s proposal and instead called for the governor to find some $600 million in savings to balance the spending plan. “That was not serious, and, point of fact, not only was it not serious, it basically set the building on fire,” Malloy said, claiming the Republican proposal then led to a similar approach by the legislative Appropriations Committee.

That, in turn, led to negotiations that produce a budget “that nobody liked,” Malloy added.

Fasano, meanwhile responded to Sharkey in a letter questioning whether ideas put forward by Republicans would be taken seriously as Malloy and lawmakers look to keep the budget in balance. “Putting ideas in silos and delivering them to the governor hasn’t worked before,” the Republican Senate leader wrote Tuesday.

“We’ve gone down that road before.” He also accused Democrats, who control a majority in each chamber of the General Assembly, of treating Malloy differently than they did Republican governors.

“I would like to remind you that when this Democratic legislature fundamentally disagreed with the policy of a sitting Republican governor, it was willing to exercise its authority by passing its own budget,” Fasano said.

Sharkey suggested in his letter that lawmakers need to work with Malloy to avoid a veto on any changes.

But Fasano questioned why Malloy would threaten such a decision without first negotiating. He pledged his caucus would help provide a veto-proof majority for any compromise. “Grownups solve their problems by getting into a room, talking it out, and fixing them,” Fasano also said.

Malloy, meanwhile, also defended his administration’s criticism of hospital executives’ compensation when explaining the budget cuts.

Hospital executives and the Connecticut Hospital Association have accused Malloy and his administration of trying to divert attention, but Malloy said Tuesday that he wanted to “put everything on the table.”

He said health-care networks earned a combined $919 million more than they spent last year, and only three experienced losses.

“They can choose to pay their chief executives $3 million, that’s their right,” Malloy said. “But I think the public should know that a not-for-profit, or a series of not-for-profits have a total amassed wealth in a single year” of $919 million.

He also questioned why he couldn’t criticize compensation to hospitals, which are still slated to receive $1.86 billion in state aid, when raises for state employees tend to draw public opposition.

Jennifer Jackson, president and CEO of CHA, said during a press conference last week that hospitals need to pay competitive salaries to retain qualified executives, and she accused Malloy of diverting attention from budget cuts that will raise costs for patients.

Griffin Health Services Corp. President Patrick Charmel said at the same press conference that the budget cuts come as the state has also increased its tax on hospitals by $500 million since 2011.