Democrats Vote To Restore Arts Funding, Private College Scholarships

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A key Democratic committee voted Thursday to restore funding for the arts and scholarships for students in private colleges that had been cut by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

The committee also blocked bus fare increases, added 1,000 slots for pre-school students, allocated an additional $2.8 million for vocational agricultural schools, and kept the $20.7 billion annual budget about $700,000 below the state-mandated spending cap.

The budget-writing appropriations committee supported the budget adjustments that would spend about $ 1 million less than Malloy proposed in February for the second year of the two-year state budget. The final tally was 34 to 15 in the Democratic-dominated committee.

The committee\’s Democratic co-chairs, who wrote the final version of the bill, rejected Malloy\’s plan to eliminate scholarships for Connecticut students who attend certain private colleges in the state. The elimination was targeted for universities with endowments of more than $200 million. As such, the cut would have been $1.85 million for Quinnipiac University students in Hamden; $1.23 million for Fairfield University; $468,000 for Trinity College in Hartford, and $266,000 for Wesleyan University in Middletown. That funding was restored, along with another $1.2 million for a total of $5 million above Malloy\’s proposal for scholarships.

State Rep. Roberta Willis, a Litchfield County Democrat who has tangled with Malloy\’s administration in the past, said, \”The governor had made significant cuts to the Connecticut Independent College Student Grant, known as CICS. … The committee believed that number needed to be restored to last year\’s level, which we did.\’\’

Overall, more than 6,400 students received scholarships – averaging more than $3,600 – last year at private schools that included Goodwin College in East Hartford, Albertus Magnus in New Haven, and the University of Hartford. 

Judith Greiman, a former high-level budget official under then-Gov. Lowell P. Weicker, Jr., pushed successfully for the scholarships as the president of the Farmington-based Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges.

Malloy had called for combining the University of Connecticut, the UConn Health Center and the office of the chief medical examiner on the UConn campus in Farmington. But the committee rejected that consolidation and called for allowing the medical examiner to remain a standalone, independent agency with 58 employees. The chief medical examiner, Dr. Wayne Carver, has complained about bureaucratic tangles in his agency and said that he was going to retire at one point. He then changed his mind.

The committee\’s recommendations must still be approved by the full House of Representatives and the Senate before being signed into law by Malloy. Negotiations with the Malloy administration are expected to be held in the coming weeks with the goal of finishing the budget before the legislature\’s regular session adjourns on May 9.

The Democrats would pay for the restorations by making cuts in a variety of other areas across the state\’s $20.7 billion proposed budget, including nearly $5 million in cuts in salaries, expenses, and workers\’ compensation costs at the Department of Correction, which runs the state\’s prisons. The committee also cut more than $2 million in expenses for the Department of Social Services. Cuts were also made in the environmental, consumer protection, insurance, veterans affairs, and labor departments, among others. The committee cut eight funded positions, which are currently vacant, in the state tax department to save $520,000. They also eliminated $250,000 for a business tax credit study in the governor\’s budget office and $750,000 for an elderly renters program because the growth in caseloads has been slower than expected.

Some of the biggest savings would be $36 million in debt service, which is due partly to lower projected interest rates in the tax-exempt bond market. Lawmakers are also saving $23 million more than Malloy in an overall education budget of nearly $3 billion.

The committee also called for adding six positions in the cold case unit in the division of criminal justice, including three in a shooting task force that would be added to southwestern Connecticut.

In another move, the committee chairs restored all funding for the arts that had been cut by Malloy and maintained specific line items for various cultural organizations. Malloy had originally proposed cutting those funds to zero, but he later restored 80 percent of the funding after an outcry from arts leaders who came to the state Capitol complex for a public hearing at night.

The restorations of full funding include nearly $800,000 for the New Haven Festival of Arts and Ideas, $650,000 for the Mystic Aquarium, $575,000 for the Maritime Center Authority in Norwalk, nearly $400,000 for the Stamford Center for the Arts, more than $372,000 for the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, and more than $100,000 for the Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe homes in Hartford. State Rep. Toni Walker, a New Haven Democrat, said there is only one zoo in the entire state, and it needs to be funded.

\”All of those items add to economic development in those communities they represent,\’\’ Walker said of the various arts organizations, including many that are in major cities.

The recommendation includes a new line item for the first time for The Bushnell Center for the Arts in Hartford, lawmakers said.

Malloy had called for allowing the arts groups to compete for $14 million in funding, but the arts leaders who testified to the appropriations committee said they were unclear on how and when they would compete.

Malloy\’s proposed cuts had raised eyebrows as more than 20 different programs were slated to receive no funding at all and had a zero placed next to their names in Malloy’s line-item budget. The groups had already set their fiscal plans for the 2012 calendar year, and they were surprised that their state funding could disappear in the middle of the year.

The proposed cuts had included $2.1 million for the Connecticut Humanities Council, nearly $800,000 for the New Haven Festival of Arts and Ideas, $630,000 for the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford, $620,000 for Mystic Aquarium, and $530,000 for the Maritime Center Authority in Norwalk. Malloy was also seeking to slice $378,000 each from the Amistad vessel, the Stamford Center for the Arts, the Palace Theatre in Waterbury, and the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport.

The cuts also included $354,000 to the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, $300,000 for the Garde Arts Center in New London, $150,000 for the Ivoryton Playhouse, and a combined $95,000 for the Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe houses in Hartford. The cuts stretch around the state, including nearly $95,000 each for the Greater Hartford Arts Council and the New Haven Arts Council and $75,000 for the Greater New Britain Arts Alliance.

While the Democrats rolled out their proposal Thursday, the Republicans offered a 55-page amendment as an alternative budget. That plan called for three tax cuts that would include restoring the popular $500 property tax credit on the state income tax. Today, the property tax credit it $300 – as set by the budget last year.

The Republicans also called for eliminating the state\’s sales tax on clothing and footwear that cost less than $50, which would save an overall total of nearly $142 million for taxpayers per year. They also want to restore the sales tax exemptions for non-prescription drugs that would save taxpayers $17.5 million per year.

After a brief debate, the Republican plan was rejected, 30 to 15, by the Democratic-dominated committee.

Republicans would pay for their plan by eliminating two major programs: they would eliminate the earned income tax credit that had been installed last year by Malloy and the Democrats, and they would eliminate millions in public funding for political campaigns.

 Citing the problems with the D-SNAP emergency food stamp program last year, Republicans called for funding 12 additional positions to the Medicaid fraud unit with the expectation that each investigator would detect $7 million in fraud. As such, Republicans said the state would recover $84 million  under the plan. The state Medicaid budget of more than $5 billion has become one of the most expensive programs in the state.

\”We know historically that fraud within these programs goes undetected and unreported,\’\’ said House Republican leader Larry Cafero of Norwalk. \”The food stamp debacle last year proved that the state is not managing its resources, and we need greater accountability.\’\’

Sen. Joseph Markley, a Southington Republican who serves on the committee, had called the state auditors to ask them to look into the problems with the D-SNAP program.

The Republicans also called for eliminating controversial \”longevity\’\’ payments for non-union state employees, as well as cutting salaries for legislators, commissioners, and executive directors by 10 percent.

State Rep. Toni Walker asked why the Republican ideas were not presented during the subcommittee meetings, saying that \”at no time did I ever see us reject or not entertain\’\’ Republican ideas at the subcommittee level.

The Courant\’s Daniela Altimari reports that, in a press conference with reporters at the state Capitol, Malloy addressed various aspects of the budget.

\”I think there are a few things in there that are non-starters, quite frankly, particularly with regard to the legislature\’s desire perhaps to not be as supportive of generally-accepted accounting principles as I am and will continue to be,\’\’ Malloy said. \”I think the people of Connecticut want GAAP implemented; they want it implemented yesterday, not tomorrow. And any changes with the respect to the ability of my administration to administer the budget will be opposed quite vigorously, including all tools to at our command.\”
 
He added, \”We\’re almost done with the sausage phase. When that\’s done, we\’ll get down to the hard work.\”
 
Regarding arts funding, he said, \”I don\’t think that\’s a major philosophical difference. There\’s a difference. I think we should be doing more things where we actually measure results … as opposed to assume that we should budget the same amount every single year. We don\’t even use the term any more but \’zero-sum budgetting\’ is the concept that you make an evaluation on a regular basis … about where you spend your money. I think [it] is a better way to do it, but that\’s not a gigantic fight.\”
 
Asked if there is anything that has to be in the education overhaul bill in order to win his signature, Malloy said simply, \”More. … There has to be more in it.\”

In the earlier discussion about the arts cuts in February, Sen. Robert Duff of Norwalk had asked Catherine Smith, Malloy\’s commissioner of economic development, to explain the department’s thinking “as to why you think this is a good idea” to cut funding to zero for many arts groups.

Smith responded that Malloy was moving away from earmarked money for the organizations to “a more comprehensive and competitive process” in a transition.

“They’ve set their budgets for the calendar year, and they are very nervous,” Duff said of the groups facing the cuts. “They’re a little shocked at the zeroes.”

“The goal is not to zero-out these organizations, despite what it looks like on paper,” Smith responded. “We do want to move toward that notion that people will apply for funding on an annual basis.”

Smith said, “I don’t know” if the arts groups were told in advance that their grants would be sliced to zero.

She added, “We are by no means intending for anyone to lose their federal funding.”

Duff, though, was not convinced.

“We may have to agree to disagree on some of this,” Duff said, adding that he is “not completely comfortable with this in the way it was rolled out.” He added, “The legislative branch, as a co-equal branch of government, has a role to play, too.”

Later, Smith said that the state would be increasing money for tourism to $25 million and will be developing a new “brand” for Connecticut.

“The governor worked on the ‘I Love New York’ campaign when he was in law school,” Smith told Sen. Toni Harp, the longtime co-chairwoman of the appropriations committee. “We haven’t got a brand yet that we can hang our hat on. We hired four firms to do the work with us. … I forget all the names of these various firms.”

Harp responded that television advertising is “really, really expensive” to broadcast.

“This is what the research will inform us about on where to spend the dollars,” Smith respondend. ”We want to be aiming at a younger, maybe 3o to 50, age market. … We’re mostly a drive-to state for tourism.”

As such, some advertising would be targeted at states like Rhode Island and New Jersey because vacationers can drive from those states to Connecticut.

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