Hard decisions

It was disconcerting to see that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget cuts fell so heavily on social service programs. We would urge the legislature, when it takes its hack at further budget cuts, to look elsewhere.

Gov. Malloy and the legislature must find about $363 million to avoid a projected budget deficit for the current fiscal year that ends June 30. The governor began that process Wednesday, announcing $170 million in cuts, the most he can approve under his emergency authority. The governor will next submit a plan to lawmakers to find additional savings, with the legislature having the final say.

The deficit is, to a large degree, the product of lower-than-expected tax revenues and a surge in Medicaid spending for the poor, both factors tied to a still struggling economy. While some revenue and savings projections contained in the budget were certainly too optimistic, it is also true that the slow economy is dragging other state budgets into the red as well. This is not just a Connecticut problem.

Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor's senior policy adviser, tried to put the best face on the social service cuts, nearly $69 million spread over several agencies serving the aging, needy and disabled. Mr. Occhiogrosso argued that Connecticut has done a better job than many in protecting those programs.

"Put in perspective, the decisions Gov. Malloy has made have left those who are dependent on the safety net in much, much better shape in Connecticut than people in similar circumstances in other states," Mr. Occhiogrosso said.

While there is truth to that, these cuts to housing and homeless assistance projects, nutrition programs, and health initiatives targeting poor children affect the most vulnerable.

Local authorities should brace for possible reductions in municipal aid, which is off limits to the governor but will be an option for the legislature. The legislature should use discretion, trying to avoid inflicting too much damage on already struggling cities.

The fiscal challenge will grow more difficult when the General Assembly returns for the regular session in February, facing a projected $1.2 billion shortfall for the next fiscal year.

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