Republicans pitch furloughs, restore hospital aid, put municipal revenue sharing at risk
CT News Junkie, March 16, 2016
by Christine Stuart
Republican legislative leaders say they found the $220 million in spending cuts necessary to balance the budget without laying off any state employees or reducing payments to state hospitals and private nonprofit providers.
“We do not agree in the specific with every line item reduction, specifically those to the Children’s Medical Center, school reform and higher education, and cuts to property tax relief,” Devon Puglia, a Malloy spokesman, said. “At the same time, our new economic reality demands that we all make compromises in order to reduce overall spending.”
The Republican deficit mitigation plan would require two furlough days from state employees, it sweeps dozens of funds, reduces lawmaker pay by 10 percent, eliminates franking privileges for the rest of the year, reduces funding for Connecticut Network Television — which is like C-Span for state government — and eliminates $24 million in funding municipalities were suppose to use to lower their property tax rates.
The Republican proposal would also restore the $141 million cut to hospital funding and $51 million for private nonprofit providers. The $141 million is not all state money, however. In actuality, the Republican proposal would restore the state’s $30 million hospital expenditure, which then gives the state access to another $111 million from the federal government in the form of Medicaid reimbursements.
Democratic legislative leaders told Malloy on Monday that they are “examining targeted cuts to municipal aid that reflect avoidable inefficiencies and foster inter-municipal cooperation; looking at programs and agencies that are not providing services in a cost-effective manner; and reviewing existing state contracts with vendors.” However, they didn’t offer any more than a six-sentence letter.
Democratic legislative leaders said they will submit a more complete plan later this week. “Aside from the Republicans’ tiresome partisan rhetoric, it is a comprehensive proposal that brings forth many of the ideas we have all been talking about, and when the Democrats’ recommendations are completed later this week, I look forward to finalizing a package and a bipartisan vote to balance the current fiscal year,” House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said.
That deficit mitigation plan will be in addition to the Appropriations Committee spending plan that’s due before March 31. That spending plan will be balanced with a revenue package due by April 1.
Bipartisan consensus, but differences on municipal aid back to top
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven said there’s a lot of bipartisan consensus reflected in what the Republicans released Tuesday. “There will also be differences in key areas,” Looney added.
Looney said sweeping the Municipal Revenue Sharing Account “will result in a municipal tax increase for over half of the state of Connecticut.” Kevin Maloney, a spokesman for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, echoed Looney’s remarks. “We appreciate being a part of discussions to find solutions to the state’s fiscal challenges,” Maloney said. “Any reductions in municipal aid must accompany meaningful mandates relief and initiatives that achieve real local efficiencies.”
The Republicans offered a line-by-line description of their budget cuts Tuesday. House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said Republicans have been leading by proposing solutions to the state’s budget deficit every three months. “People aren’t going to like everything about this,” Klarides said. But this could be the “best day we have in this building,” because the deficits in future years are estimated to be much larger, Klarides said.
The 2017 budget deficit is expected to be more than $900 million and about $2 billion in each of the following years. Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said Malloy’s homework assignment to legislative leaders was to solve the 2016 budget deficit.
But he said there’s about $197 million in spending cuts that could be carried over to 2017. As far as labor negotiations go, Fasano said he spoke with the unions about his furlough proposal. Publicly, the unions panned the idea of furloughs, but Fasano believes some of the newer members of the state workforce would prefer a furlough in lieu of a layoff.
“The layoffs are, of course, a terrible idea and Republican leaders are among those who caused the budget problem by their stubborn refusal to ask millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share,” Cindy Stretch, a Southern Connecticut State University English professor, said last week. She said the proposal is a “Trojan Horse” because it would require the state to open the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition contract for health and pension benefits, which doesn’t expire until 2022. Fasano said that’s something Malloy and the unions should be discussing.
The administration is currently negotiating with 30 bargaining groups regarding salary and working conditions. Malloy and SEBAC are currently not in negotiations over health and pension benefits and have not met to have discussions. Malloy and some lawmakers, including House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, have called on union officials to reopen the contract.
Daniel Livingston, chief negotiator for the State Employees Bargaining Unit Coalition, said he doesn’t think union leaders would refuse to meet with the governor. “I think they would use the opportunity to talk about savings that could be had by fully implementing the agreement rather than changing it, and by ramping up the state’s clean contracting efforts,” Livingston said.
Livingston said state employees already made sacrifices in 2009 and in 2011. Those sacrifices include nearly $1 billion a year in ongoing savings. “State employees are already part of the solution,” Livingston has said. He suggested that if the governor wanted to fully implement the 2011 agreement, then he would be able to find additional savings. Both Republican and Democratic legislative leaders will meet with Malloy again Wednesday to discuss the budget.