Malloy unveils budget cuts

Facing a mounting budget deficit this fiscal year, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced $170 million in cuts across a wide gamut of state agencies on Wednesday.

Earlier this month, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes certified a budget deficit of $365 million for fiscal year 2012. By law, the governor must draft a deficit mitigation plan whenever the state’s projected deficit tops 1 percent of the total $19.1 billion budget. The cuts he proposed fall within the governor’s authority to slash up to 5 percent of any budget line item without the need to seek legislative approval.

“Many of these cuts are very difficult to make, especially now when so many residents continue to struggle in a tough economy,” Barnes said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “But as painful as they are, cuts are necessary to keep this year’s budget in balance. State government needs to live within its means.”

Malloy’s proposed cuts will affect programs ranging from mental health services to funding for magnet schools and food stamps. The Departments of Children and Families and Residential Services for the Disabled will also face cuts.

Malloy has said repeatedly that he will not raise taxes in this round of budget negotiations. Pressed on that point during a meeting with the legislature’s taxing and spending committees by Republican State Senator Rob Kane, Barnes said that Malloy has already increased taxes by $1.5 billion and is not inclined to do so again. To illustrate his point, Barnes invoked Dr. Seuss.

“I have no intention, I will not, I shall not, I do not wish to. I feel like I’m in ‘Green Eggs and Ham.’ We do not like new taxes, Sam I Am,” Barnes said.

But Kane said Malloy could have lessened the cuts to social welfare agencies if he had been willing to deflate the state’s administrative budget, which in part pays government employee salaries. In particular, he pointed to an $18 million cut to the Department of Children and Families, which he said could have been substituted by slashing part of the $30 million administrative budget.

In order to cover the remainder of the budget shortfall, Malloy will submit a further deficit mitigation package to the legislature next week with approximately $200 million more in proposed cuts. The legislature will need to approve these cuts for them to take effect. But Kane said he fears the State Senate Democrats will resort to further tax increases rather than cutting an additional $200 million from the state’s budget.

“We’re staring down a billion dollar deficit in 2014, so government can’t continue to outspend its income — you and I don’t do that,” Kane said. “We have a great opportunity to reduce the size of government, but they have not shown a propensity to be able to cut.”

Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney declined to speculate on the nature of legislative action before the governor releases his deficit mitigation plan.

The cuts come at a time when the state’s economy is already on shaky ground. Connecticut’s unemployment rate rose to 9 percent in October, over a full percentage point higher than the national average. Barnes has repeatedly attributed the budget deficit to the lagging economic recovery.

During the legislature’s session starting in January, lawmakers will begin negotiations on another two-year budget, which must close the projected $1 billion deficit in 2014.

“We should all remember that as difficult as some of these reductions are to make now, there are more, even tougher choices ahead,” Barnes said at the press conference.

The state of Connecticut negotiates its budget on a biannual basis.

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