Sen. Formica: Cooperation is key for CT to emerge from its fiscal mess. (The Day)

February 4, 2016

Hartford — Southeastern Connecticut’s delegation in Hartford was pleased with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s message of collaboration and compromise between the two parties during his remarks on the first day of the 2016 legislative session.

“These are my ideas,” Malloy said after outlining his fifth and final budget principle to work together and “not pass a budget on the final day of this session this year.”

“I am sure there will be other ideas from those in this chamber, from leaders across the state, and citizens concerned about our future. All of those ideas should be heard as we take on this challenge together,” he said.

Malloy proposed a $19.87 billion budget that cuts funding from most state agencies. He is reducing spending for the next fiscal year’s budget by $570 million. Fiscal projections show that there is an anticipated $500 million shortfall in the 2016-17 state budget.

Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, said Malloy’s speech outlined the dire fiscal environment in the state. He said he welcomed Malloy’s tone of cooperation among leaders.

“In his own words, and words that we’ve said all along, no one has a monopoly on good ideas,” Formica said. “So let’s bring it all together. Let’s work together, work hard and make sure that we get this done because we’re running out of time to do it.”

Formica is a member of the appropriations, energy, and public safety committees.

He was also recently appointed to the new Efficiency Planning Task Force, comprising eight legislators — four from each party — to identify and evaluate the efficiency of state services that cost more than $250,000 annually.

The task force was established during the Dec. 8 special legislative session to address the then $350 million budget deficit.

“I look forward to weaving that in and out of the fiscal process,” Formica said of the task force.

He said the Appropriations Committee would be looking “at the fair and equitable distribution” of appropriated funds.

As for the Energy Committee, Formica said, “We’re looking to really revamp how energy is procured and distributed in the state, with an eye on what’s the benefit for the rate payers.”

The committee is holding two upcoming public meetings, “Where we’re asking the utilities and the renewables to come to the committee and talk to us about what their plans are; what their future looks like; what their business models look like; and how can we work together to achieve a better and more efficient energy future,” he said.

He also mentioned the New London magnet school issue and finding a “good solution” for that.

The governor’s proposed budget contains an $18.68 million cut to the $324.9 million allocated for magnet schools, one of the 5.75 percent “across the board” reductions in Malloy’s proposed budget.

Fresh out of a conversation with Formica about the magnet school issue, Rep. Ernie Hewett, D-New London, said, “The state gave us that designation to be a magnet school district, but now they don’t want to work with us to get this thing off the ground.”

He said that the issue is his top priority this session and that he would be introducing legislation that deals with the spending caps involved.

“Everything that he said today sounds good,” Hewett said. “It sounded like he was Republican slash Democrat.

“But that’s all right now,” he continued. “We all would like to work together in this legislative session to get something done. But when there’s something in it that they don’t like, they end up voting against it. They want to put a footprint on it and I have a problem with that.”

Hewett said there was a number of items in last year’s budget that he didn’t agree with but he voted in favor of it “because of the stuff that was in there for New London.”

Rep. Aundre Bumgardner, R-Groton, said he expects to work with Formica and Hewett on what he said appears to be a gap in communication between the state and New London school district when it comes to funding.

“On both sides of the river we have issues with funding,” Bumgardner said. “The chief reason for that is Hartford has made promises in the past to our school districts.”

In New London, he said the state intervention came with the promise of an influx of funding. But a significant portion of the funding for magnet school districts was repealed during the special session.

“If the state is not going to live up to its words, we’re going to have create stronger parameters and create clear rules and expectations,” Bumgardner said.

He said unanswered questions about who is impacted by the cuts is caused by “a significant gap in communication that has led to a what I think is very broken magnet school funding system. We have to grapple with that this session.”

He called the existing budget process “incredibly broken.” He said he welcomed any change in the budget process that would include Republican input but also shorten the timeline for the budget presentation.

“We voted on the budget in the final days of the last session,” Bumgardner said. “Hartford needs to find that discipline to create sustainable budgets that are efficient, that reduces spending and holds the line on taxes in those out years. We can no longer afford these tax increase that are levied on middle class families throughout the state.

“The governor seemed adamant that he is going to make these changes or would like to see the state make these changes. As someone who represents southeastern Connecticut and feels the consequences of continued recessions since 2008, I will hold the governor to his word and look to be a willing partner in creating these sustainable budgets for years to come,” Bumgardner said.

Malloy announced he planned to cut more than 1,000 state employees, through attrition “and other means.”

Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville, predicted some people will not be happy with possible reductions in state services and in aid to municipalities.

“I think that’s something we might have to prepare ourselves for as we look at the realities of how we make up $500 million,” Ryan said. “And if we’re going to have state employees being laid off unfortunately that might trickle down. My big concern is that if we lay off state employees people should be aware that’s going to adversely impact services with fewer people working and longer waits.”

He said, half jokingly, he hoped none of the cuts would come from the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

State Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, was present during an informal meeting of the Senate Wednesday morning. He did not speak but stood and applauded intermittently with others. Maynard has suffered two head injuries over the last two years, one in a fall and one in a car accident. He has not granted interviews over that time and did not speak to the media Wednesday.

It did not appear Maynard was present for Malloy’s address later.

Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, said, “In the past we’ve had some closed doors so it was refreshing to hear the governor say that he’s going to be inviting people in and we’re going to be listening to all of the ideas.”

Andrew Maynard at his desk in the State Senate chambers on the first day of the legislative session at the State Capitol in Hartford Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Buy Photo

Andrew Maynard at his desk in the State Senate chambers on the first day of the legislative session at the State Capitol in Hartford Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

McCarty is interested in working on some of the longterm structural problems such as the pension system.

“It’s going to be difficult because, as you know, it took us quite a while to get to the situation where we are. It’s not going to happen overnight but it seems to me that we are moving in the right direction. I think both parties need to come to that. If the governor’s message today is to work together in that we have free access to the negotiations that will be a positive move.”

McCarty is on the appropriations, education and health committees.

“Obviously the governor understands, as well as many of the individuals in the General Assembly, that we need to change the structure of government,” said Rep. Emmett Riley, D-Norwich.

He said he will work to ensure that Norwich residents will receive the same level of funding they’ve received in the past.

Riley is the vice chair of the Public Health Committee and also a member of the judiciary, insurance, and energy and technology committees.

He mentioned working on solutions, such as continued funding for addiction and mental health services, to address the recent heroin epidemic in the New London area.

“I think it’s a top priority on everyone’s list so hopefully we’ll be able to make sure those agencies are funded once again or even with more,” Riley said.

Various legislative committees are scheduled to meet this week. This year’s session, which will last about three months, is a short one. The session adjourns on May 4.