As Connecticut grapples with a daunting budget deficit, the state’s Republican leadership unveiled their slate of proposed cuts at a press conference Friday in Hartford.
But the announcement was overshadowed by Republican anger over the premature leak of the proposals on Thursday, after they discussed their plans in a closed-door meeting with Gov. Dannel Malloy and Democratic leadership. Republicans say they had an understanding with Malloy and the Democrats that the content of that meeting would remain private, but the proposals were leaked to The CT Mirror shortly after the meeting ended. Speaking alongside House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano ’81, R-North Haven, condemned the leak. He said it was done for “political advantages,” adding that he doubts the leak originated from the Governor’s office or with the Republicans.
“Rep. Klarides and I … put forth plans and ideas as we understood, a room that had an understanding that what was said in that room and what was talked about in that room would remain in that room,” Fasano said. “And apparently, the sanctity with which we believed we were negotiating turned out to be not true.”
The leak, Fasano said, gives the Republicans “great pause” in future closed-door budget meetings with the Democratic leadership. The closed-door meetings have been part of an effort to eliminate the hole in the state’s $40 billion biennial budget.
Hartford faces a formidable challenge in balancing the state budget in the next two fiscal years. The state faces a gap of between $350 million and $370 million for fiscal year 2016, in addition to a projected deficit of at least $400 million for the following fiscal year.
Klarides said the deficit’s scale results from “bad fiscal decisions” in years past and still nags at the state’s finances despite the two largest tax increases in Connecticut history. As a result, she said, businesses have found staying in the state increasingly difficult, and the state can no longer produce the high-paying jobs it needs to thrive in today’s economy.
“Small businesses and large businesses alike — whether it’s the GEs of the world or Joe’s coffee shop down the street — are all suffering and trying to get out of Connecticut,” she said. “Although they love it here, they cannot afford to be here any longer.”
Klarides added that Republicans intend not to offer merely short-term solutions to the present budget gap, but to ultimately enact structural changes that will allow Connecticut’s economy to prosper for “generations to come.”
The bulk of the Republicans’ proposed cuts comes in the form of a retirement incentive program. Republicans say the program could save $80 million in FY16 and just under $100 million the following year. The proposals would save another $100 million in FY16 by diverting excess funding from the Municipal Revenue Sharing Account — an account that allows for revenue-sharing between the state and municipalities.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said in a press conference later on Friday that the Democrats — due to present their slate of budget cuts on Monday — will take into account the Republicans’ proposals when forming their own.
“There were a lot of very productive, useful ideas from all three groups — Democrats, Republicans and the administration — and I think we’re trying to take all that into consideration,” he said. “The Republicans took a lot of our thoughts into consideration with their package; we’d like to do the same with ours.”
Sharkey added that the Democrats will also seek to ensure that their cuts “protect those folks who need help the most.” He echoed Klarides, who said the Republican budget will not cut funding for Medicaid or the mentally disabled.
Malloy released the administration’s proposed budget cuts on Thursday. The proposal includes controversial cuts to mental health centers, hospitals and Medicaid funding. Malloy has also proposed slashing over $20 million from the University of Connecticut, which currently receives $243 million through a block grant, and $10 million from municipal aid.
Klarides criticized the proposal to cut funds from many of the programs that will lose funding in the administration’s budget.
“We are not cutting hospitals in any way, shape or form, or Medicaid,” she said. “That is not the way to run a budget, by cutting from people who need it the most.”
Fasano has represented parts of East Haven, Wallingford, North Haven and Durham in the state Senate since 2003.