HARTFORD – In his 2016 State of the State address, Gov. Dannel Malloy focused almost solely on the state budget and Connecticut’s budgeting process. He said that’s because the economy on a national level and here in Connecticut was fundamentally changed by the Great Recession.
Malloy indicated that Connecticut families and businesses have adapted to a “new economic reality” and the government needs to do the same.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides isn’t sure how close to reality the governor’s plan is.
“He means that they get in bed every night and pray that more revenue will come in, even though everyone in the world said it won`t,” said Rep. Klarides.
Both House and Senate Republicans reacted with frustration to the State of the State address and the governor’s call for changes to the process. They said had the state adopted structural changes to the budget process years ago, we might not be here now.
However, at this point all sides agree something has to change.
“We have to make substantial changes in the way we do budgeting over all to realize savings, not by making cuts all the time but actually looking at how we can generate savings,” said Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey.
The governor called for limiting spending to available resources and prioritizing funding for core government services: protecting the public, ensuring a social safety net, building a strong economy, safeguarding our environment, providing a public education and administering justice.
But the governor is also asking for more power in the budget process, which both Republican and Democratic lawmakers reject.
Senate President Martin Looney said, “Already there are a number of inherent advantages in the executive and the legislature has to do work hard to keep pace. So anything that would institutionally change the balance is something that I think we would have some concerns about.”
“We should say what policies we want to fund and what policies we don`t want to fund. That’s what we get elected to do. That`s our obligation,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano.
Malloy proposed a scaled back $20 billion spending package in the midst of declining revenues, leading to the state’s continuous deficit issues.
He has said he won't increase taxes to fix the budget crisis, which is a promise taxpayers and the business community hope he keeps.
“It really is about the kind of climate we want to create here,” said Joe Brennan, president & CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. “We hear from businesses large and small it`s that uncertainty about never knowing what`s coming next that`s really been the big issue and why we haven’t seen the kind of growth we want to see in Connecticut."
But the cuts have to come from somewhere. Malloy called for saving money through collective bargaining with unions, restructured pensions, and possible layoffs.
"It won't come without sacrifice - it will require the reduction of the state workforce by more than 1000 employees through attrition and other means,” said Malloy in his address.
Several state unions balked at these proposals. A spokesperson for SEIU 1199, a healthcare union, said in a statement, “Eliminating jobs that provide vital services like ensuring we have safe drinking water or caring for the disabled in our communities is a dangerous path for our state.”
Meanwhile, Lori Pelletier, president of Connecticut’s AFL-CIO, isn't panicking yet because negotiations are ongoing.
“The governor has committed to us to sit down with our ideas of how to make the government more efficient without losing jobs,” said Pelletier.
Other cuts would hit Connecticut towns and cities. The governor is proposing a reduction in aid in certain categories. The executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities said it's not clear what exactly that means just yet.
“The most important thing is if we reduce aid to cities and towns, we have to make sure those reductions are offset by efficiencies. Because if they`re not offset by efficiencies, they end up as property tax increases,” said CCM Executive Director Joe DeLong.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin says he understands the state has to make some tough decisions, but his city has its own financial problems.
Mayor Bronin said, “We`ve got a structural deficit and we`re going to be working hard to address it, of course any cuts that come out of cities is going to make our job that much harder.”
During his address, Malloy said he knows there are other ideas out there about how to tackle these problems. He said he will be holding a series of town hall meetings across Connecticut during the session, which concludes May 4.