Rell discusses budget

At a New Haven press conference Tuesday, Gov. M. Jodi Rell said that despite Democratic opposition, her deficit mitigation plan will not only pass, but also put money back in residents’ pockets “if not this week, then next.”

“I’m ready to go,” she said to reporters.

Rell met with 14 New Haven executives at the Sargent Manufacturing Co. headquarters in Long Wharf, discussing her current projected budget and taking time to hear concerns about the New Haven economy. Most local business leaders in attendance heralded the governor for her budget-slimming tactics, saying they are looking into further reducing their own costs.

In a press conference following the closed meeting, Rell defended her contested budget. She also addressed topics ranging from the Democratic push for a health care pooling bill in a deficit mitigation plan to the possibility of 24-hour alcohol sales in state casinos. (Rell will support it, she said, if it helps balance the budget.)

Rell’s proposed $38-billion state budget has been passionately disputed by some state Democrats over the last few weeks. The apparently conflict-free Tuesday meeting marks the eye of the storm before a partisan showdown slated to occur before legislators finally approve the biennial state budget. Cooper said before the press conference the event highlights an aspect at which the budget Rell believes she has excelled — catering to small businesses.

On Feb. 19, Rell announced her $1.1-billion deficit mitigation plan, fueled by the state’s emergency Rainy Day Fund and federal stimulus money. State Democrats countered with their own $1.2-billion deficit mitigation plan Tuesday, which Rell called a “disappointment” in a Tuesday night statement. And neither side has made efforts to create bipartisan economic stimulus proposals.

During the press conference, Rell was quick to accent Gateway’s workforce training program to exemplify how local businesses have been “strong and robust.” But looming in the minds of everyone present — from the presidents of Gateway Community College and Southern Connecticut State University to Rell’s spokesman Chris Cooper — was the failing economy. As the company heads mind their own budgets, Rell and state legislators are wrestling over the fiscal 2010 state budget. All have said they have struggled to make end’s meet.

Rell reiterated her response to reporters Tuesday: If her mitigation plan is passed by legislators next week, the state’s current finances will ultimately clear. “We will ultimately bottom out,” she said.

She said she hopes to restructure the state government to balance the budget; one change, she mentioned, was having Connecticut towns pay more for an in-town state trooper. She also defended her use of the Rainy Day Fund, a stock of revenue untouched since 2002, for her mitigation plan.

“I make no apologies for using the one-time revenue,” she said. “It’s raining right now, and I’m not afraid to use it.”

Some business leaders said they were impressed by how well the budget meeting went, adding that they remain hopeful their businesses — and Rell’s bureaucracy — will cut costs effectively.

“I support the governor and all she has done,” Gateway President Dorsey Kendrick said. “We will continue to do our part to streamline our processes.”

Added Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce President Anthony Rescigno after the press conference: “[Rell] was very sincere in listening to what the businesses were saying.”

Among the executives present at the closed meeting were Kevin Walsh, Yale-New Haven Hospital’s vice president of development, and Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, GNHCC chairman and Yale’s associate vice president for the Office of New Haven and State Affairs.

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