State cuts hit everything from combat pay to Mystic Aquarium

Among the $170 million in "rescissions" - cuts to the current fiscal year expenditures budget - announced Wednesday by the Malloy administration are many that will affect local programs, schools, social services, and arts and tourism.

Administrators in those agencies talked Wednesday about what the cuts will mean to their clients and customers.

Veterans and the military

State Veterans Affairs Commissioner Linda Schwartz said the $177,000 cut to her department means she will not be able to fill some of the open positions or help reimburse families for the cost of setting up government headstones for veterans. There will be less funding for support services for veterans but, Schwartz said, veterans' service organizations help with those expenses and activities.

The Military Department, which includes the Connecticut Army and Air National Guard and state personnel who support the Guard, will receive nearly $16,000 less for its honor guard, which renders honors at military funerals, and $8,000 less to pay the $50-per-month bonuses for time served in a combat area.

Col. John Whitford, spokesman for the Connecticut National Guard, said there was about $320,000 in the honor guard account at the start of the fiscal year. The department will look for federal funding and assistance to help offset the cut, he said.

Whitford said the department still should have enough money to pay the bonuses but will monitor it closely. The most each Guard member may receive is $1,200.

The Office of Military Affairs, which was created after the Naval Submarine Base was nearly closed in the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment process, will receive about $23,000 less. Executive director Bob Ross said contingency funds were allocated to the office in case of a BRAC, but he doesn't foresee another round happening in the near future.

University of Connecticut

President Susan Herbst issued a statement saying that the $10.3 million in cuts to the university will effectively mean a $15 million reduction in state support, but that her policy will be "to protect what is most vital to us: our core academic missions of teaching, learning, and research, including the much-needed faculty hiring initiative that is underway. We will not halt our faculty hiring plan, and will keep building our research infrastructure."

She said "painful cuts" will have to be made to many nonacademic areas.

Education

Cuts include a $7.1 million reduction for community and technical colleges statewide and $1 million in cuts to Priority School District funding.

Three Rivers Community College President Grace Jones said she didn't know yet how much of the Norwich-based college's $38.5 million budget would be affected.

"We know it's not anything we can do easily," Jones said.

Norwich public school Superintendent Abby Dolliver said she, too, is trying to learn details of how the $1 million in statewide cuts to Priority School District funding would affect Norwich. The city expected to receive $1.1 million in Priority School District funding this year.

The money covers, among other things, salaries and benefits for instructional coaches in every school, officials said.

New London Science and Technology Magnet School Director Louis Allen said Wednesday that it's "premature" to discuss how the $2 million cut to magnet schools will affect New London.

"It's so new to the magnet school office," Allen said. "They're just trying to look at the overall budget and see how they're going to absorb that (cut)."

State Department of Education spokesman James Polites said in a statement: "The Department is currently analyzing the impact of the actions taken, and we will work with our partners to minimize the effects upon our public schools and upon the implementation of our education reform initiatives."

Courts

The Judicial Branch would need to reduce its $482.5 million budget by about $5.7 million - 1.1 percent. Exact figures were unavailable Wednesday because the $5.75 million figure cited in the governor's letter includes both the Judicial Branch and the Division of Public Defender Services, a separate agency.

"The Governor's office reached out to us; we know we need to be part of the solution," said Rhonda Stearley-Hebert, program manager of communications for the Judicial Branch, in an email. "We are working out specifics of the plan, so we are not yet in a position to provide details."

Under the rescission plan, the Division of Criminal Justice, a separate agency that employs state prosecutors, will reduce its $49.5 million budget by $745,747, 2 percent. The largest cut, $600,000, would be to "personal services," which is payroll.

Other cuts include $53,131 from a new shooting task force program that targets violence in Hartford, New Haven and New Britain; $45,000 from the prosecution of Medicaid fraud; and $17,773 from the unit that investigates cold case murders.

Tourism

Ed Dombroskas, executive director of the Eastern Connecticut Tourism District, which is losing $27,000, said the number was in line with expectations of a 5 percent reduction.

He said the district, which has a budget of about $540,000, would hold off on filling a vacant marketing assistant position and likely would cut back on tourism advertising next spring.

"The real question isn't so much how much is going to be cut this year, but how much will be cut next year," Dombroskas said.

Mystic Aquarium

Mystic Aquarium, which receives approximately $620,000 in state funding, is slated to be cut by $24,804.

Steve Coan, president and CEO of Sea Research Foundation, the aquarium's parent organization, released this statement: "We are confident that the Governor continues to be a strong advocate for tourism and for attractions and cultural institutions."

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