HARTFORD – A key legislative committee voted Thursday for more than $12 million in additional spending beyond the recommendation of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, including hiring 443 new state employees.
On a straight party-line tally, the budget-writing appropriations committee voted 26 to 19 to approve changes in the second year of Malloy\’s two-year budget. The recommendation calls for spending $12.33 million more during the 2015 fiscal year that starts on July 1.
Republicans who did not support Malloy\’s proposed budget in February also voted against the Democratic committee\’s budget nearly two months later. They said it was constructed with one-time spending gimmicks and \”revenue tricks\’\’ that would leave holes in future budgets. All Democrats present voted in favor of the budget, while all Republicans voted against it.
\”It\’s built on bad math, at the very best,\’\’ said Rep. Craig Miner, a Litchfield Republican who is the ranking House member on the committee.
Sen. John McKinney of Fairfield, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor against Malloy, said, \”We\’ve talked about kicking the can down the road. In some areas, the governor has even just tried to hide the can altogether.\’\’
McKinney added, \”In a time when we\’re looking at future deficits, such spending increases are nothing short of irresponsible. … Despite the governor\’s claims to the contrary that Connecticut does not have deficits, we all know – and real people understand – that we are looking at $1 billion budget deficits in the out-years. … We know that people are still hurting and can\’t find jobs. Now is not the time to be increasing spending, increasing the size and scope of government, and increasing our deficits in the future. In fact, it\’s time to do just the opposite.\’\’
But the committee\’s Democratic co-chairwomen, Sen. Beth Bye of West Hartford and Rep. Toni Walker of New Haven, sharply rejected the Republican comments as sound bites that don\’t tell the whole story.
\”We disagree strongly,\’\’ Bye told reporters. \”We worked hard to present a responsible budget, and I think this is a responsible budget that responds to the [state] residents.\’\’
Later, during the committee meeting at the state Capitol complex in Hartford, Bye said that she and Walker needed to make cuts as the subcommittees had proposed even higher spending.
\”We had to find a whole lot of savings to make the budget work under the cap,\’\’ Bye told the committee. \”There are so many things we could not do\’\’ because the state does not have enough money in a still-sluggish economy.
Bye added, \”Believe me, there were a lot of hard choices.\’\’
Thursday\’s debate marked another step in the state budget process. Now, top legislators will negotiate with Malloy over the next six weeks in an attempt to reach an overall agreement. That agreement would be subject to final approval by the House and Senate before the legislative session ends on May 7.
The recommended budget would be a razor-thin $400,000 under the state-mandated spending cap in the current fiscal year and $700,000 under the cap next year. That represents a tiny percentage of the overall budget. Republicans described the plan as \”very anti-GAAP\’\’ – saying that it partially pays for next year\’s spending with this year\’s money and does not adhere strictly to generally accepted accounting principles.
Republicans criticized the recommendations, saying they would lead to 443 new state employees, which is 37 more than proposed by Malloy. The recommendation restores more than $20 million for hiring in the executive, legislative and judicial branches, which amounts to 443 new state employees. At $50,000 each, 400 positions cost $20 million.
The plan does not restore any funding to hospitals, which have been complaining about lower reimbursements than expected as medical costs continue to increase. Republicans also questioned whether the state could meet its savings targets, including reducing $4 million in overtime for the state police.
The committee is calling for a 1 percent cost-of-living increase for home and community-based providers in the Connecticut home care program for the elderly. It also supports new funding for a variety of programs with state economic development funds, including OpSail New London, the Connecticut Invention Convention, and the annual Stamford Parade in the city\’s downtown area, among others. Continue reading