Connecticut Governor John G. Rowland said at a press conference Monday that the state’s budget deficit is still growing, despite an agreement reached with state legislators in November that reduced the shortfall by nearly $200 million.
Rowland said the deficit now stands near $350 million. In November, state Comptroller Nancy Wyman estimated the deficit at $285 million.
“Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news,” Rowland said, “but these are the realities we are facing.”
Last year, the state actually posted a budget surplus, but Rowland announced yesterday that under his new plan the state will no longer spend any of the extra money. To make ends meet, the governor said he will also have to cut more education and mental health spending — a solution that has worried local politicians since Rowland proposed it in November.
After yesterday’s press conference, Rowland spokesman Dean Pagani said he was certain that cities like New Haven will still receive the funding to which they are accustomed.
“It shouldn’t affect [cities and towns] in any way,” he said. “It will definitely affect the state budget, but it will not affect the money from the state to cities and towns.”
Pagani explained that the state will still fulfill its obligations to municipalities but will do so by borrowing rather than spending out of operating revenues.
“Most mayors and first selectmen don’t care how the state gets the money,” he said. “They just care that they get it.”
Rowland’s plan will cut state school construction spending by $50 million, but Pagani said that New Haven, which is in the middle of a 10-year, billion-dollar school construction effort, should still receive the money it needs.
“There has been a certain amount that was going to be taken out of surplus to pay for school construction,” he said. “Now that will have to be borrowed.”
He added that borrowing would “cost more in the long run” because the state will have to pay interest to creditors.
Rowland’s plan will also cut $14 million from mental-health programs, $16 million from transportation and $10 million from higher education.
Rowland also said yesterday that he is no longer averse to raising the state’s cigarette tax from 50 cents to one dollar, a proposal New Haven state Sen. Martin Looney began advertising last year before Connecticut’s deficit woes emerged. But the governor said he did not want the money spent on anti-smoking programs.
The governor rejected a proposal by the state’s new Transportation Strategy Board that would have paid for highway construction projects by installing tollbooths on Connecticut’s busiest highways.
Rowland’s budget announcement comes just three weeks after his administration cut $28 million from the $13 billion budget and three months after the agreement reached in November.
Pagani said the latest round of cuts would not greatly affect any state programs.
“In all these cases, the budget is already increasing,” he said.
–The Associated Press contributed to this article.