Connecticut Gov. John Rowland outlined the basic structure of his much-anticipated plan to narrow the $500 million state deficit in a televised address Thursday night.
The plan calls for $200 million in spending cuts, another $200 million in tax increases and $100 million in “union concessions” the governor might secure from negotiating with the organized labor groups that represent certain state workers.
The spending cuts will result in approximately 2,800 layoffs, with most of the affected workers expecting to receive their pink slips today.
“Now that our economy is growing at a slower rate, we must make adjustments,” Rowland said of the proposed measures. “The government must live within its means.”
Until the governor reveals the specifics of the plan, however, those agencies on the chopping block, and the exact distribution of the cuts, are not certain, though there is speculation that social services and special education will suffer considerable losses in staff.
Rowland said he blamed union intractability for the layoffs, citing what he called their unwillingness to make concessions as precipitating the severe actions, which he said “were not painless”.
“I offer this plan in the spirit of compromise,” Rowland said.
State Rep. Bill Dyson of the 94th district said he doubted the feasibility of the general outline.
“It might be a bit heavy in what he thinks can be cut,” said Dyson, who said much more will become clear concerning all three elements of the budget relief. “In the total scheme of this [budget], I doubt it can be done.”
In terms of the tax increases, Rowland capitulated to Democrats’ demands for a tax on those who earn over $1 million annually, a move the governor had previously rejected.
If the governor and union leaders cannot agree on a solution to that can substantially ameliorate the state’s fiscal crisis, the back-up plan would strike funds from state aid to Connecticut cities and towns, including New Haven. These potential cuts will be announced no later than the end of the year.
In any possible outcome, however, city officials were not optimistic about the effects the troubles in Hartford would have on the municipal budget.
“It’s really going to hurt,” said Ward 9 Alderman John Halle, a Yale music professor. “He’s made a decision to balance the budget in the worst way possible.”
“There’s going to be across-the-board cuts,” Halle said, adding that tax increases were “pretty much off the table”.
In response to lingering concerns that law enforcement or education may be among the city agencies hardest hit, Jim Foye, the mayor’s spokesman, tried to allay the fears despite the present uncertainty.
“It depends on how much we’re short, but I know the mayor’s not looking at police and fire first, or teachers,” Foye said.
Ward 29 Alderman Carl Goldfield gave a frank appraisal of potential city layoffs.
“Realistically, what can you do?” Goldfield said. “Either you can raise taxes or you can start laying people off. I’m not going to be shocked or surprised [if layoffs come to pass]. Something’s got to give.”
Rowland called a special session of the state legislature for Dec. 18 if the Democrat-led legislature cannot come to some agreement with the Republican governor.
The state is expected to face a deficit of $1.5 billion for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2003.