Conn. legislature unveils budget proposal

After passing historic gun-control legislation just over two weeks ago, the Connecticut Legislature turned its attention to the state budget on Friday, unveiling its biennial budget proposal. The proposal matches the spending level sought by Gov. Dannel Malloy, but diverges from the governor’s suggestions on many of the details.

The Democratic-controlled Appropriations Committee passed a budget in a vote along party lines that would spend $21.5 billion in the next fiscal year and $22.4 billion in 2014–’15, roughly equivalent to the numbers Malloy put forward in his February budget proposal. The committee maintained Malloy’s controversial plan to reduce spending in Connecticut’s 29 acute-care hospitals by $550 million. But they reversed the governor’s proposal to shed responsibility for paying employees of the state university system, awarding the university system a $14.7 million budget increase over the next two years.

“From my perspective of having been on the Appropriations Committee for years, this was one of the most difficult budgets that I’ve had to anticipate,” said Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, the co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee. “We’ve had a lot of tough choices that we’ve had to make.”

The committee, which was given a maximum spending limit from the governor, decided making significant cuts to hospital spending was the best option to meet the target, Harp said. Nonetheless, she said the committee recognizes the importance of keeping hospitals open.

“Yale-New Haven is one of the biggest employers in the state, and I wouldn’t want to do anything to force them to have to lay off their lower-paid staff, so I’m a little bit concerned,” Harp said.

While Connecticut Democrats bemoaned the cuts, Republicans said the budget should have cut more. Republicans expressed concern about the increase in the deficit that the budget will produce and the nearly $1 billion that the budget proposes to borrow to cover the government’s operating costs.

“This budget is the byproduct of the failed policies of Gov. Malloy, specifically the deal struck with state unions. It is very clear the Democrats have chosen the public sector and government class over helping the private sector grow jobs,” House Republican Leader Larry Cafero said in a statement. “There was no effort to reduce government — they simply spend, tax and borrow more.”

Republican Sen. Rob Kane was similarly disappointed with the budget. He said the committee’s proposal exceeds the governor’s budget by $49 million and called for the need to “right this fiscal track we’re on.” He added that there are many places the government could cut spending, for example, in early childhood education programs.

Ben Barnes, the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management secretary, released a statement supporting most of the proposed budget. Barnes said that while the Legislature and the state administration agree on much of the budget, there are significant issues in education reform and economic development that need to be resolved.

The Legislature will now enter into negotiations with the Malloy administration to reach an agreement.

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