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Hartford - A new report compiled by Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget office says Connecticut's overall state debt has been reduced 15 percent - or $11.6 billion - during his three years in office, but the General Assembly's Republicans questioned that claim Thursday, arguing the state still is borrowing more money than ever.
The report released by the Office of Policy and Management shows the state's total long-term debt is now $64.6 billion, much of that pension and retiree health care obligations. OPM cites increased payments to pension plans, changes in state employee benefits, limits on replacing retiring employees and spending cuts for the reduction. If such changes had not been made, OPM said the total debt would now be $76.2 billion.
"The reality is, there aren't governors in the state of Connecticut who've lessened the debt at any time in the recent past, but I have," Malloy said.
Republican Sen. Scott Frantz, the top Senate Republican on the General Assembly's Finance Revenue and Bonding Committee, said he applauds Malloy's efforts to reduce the state's long-term obligations. But Frantz said that shouldn't be an excuse to use bonds to borrow more money for various projects. He said that part of the state's overall indebtedness currently amounts to roughly $21 billion.
"We're the most heavily indebted state on a per capital basis in the entire country," he said.
Malloy defended the current level of state bonding, saying he is "investing in the future of Connecticut," focusing on key things such as public schools, economic development and military facilities.
OPM's report said the state will have "more resources available for investments in our community or to reduce taxes in the future" as long-term debts, especially unfunded obligations to retired teachers and state employees, are paid down.
The report comes as a growing number of potential Republican gubernatorial candidates are coming forward, many criticizing Malloy's economic record and the level of state borrowing.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, a candidate for governor, questioned the report's math. For instance, he said the projection assumes the state will make an annual payment beginning in 2017, mostly for retiree health liabilities, but the state hasn't budget for such a payment.
"The Malloy administration's latest report on state debt is a complete work of fiction," McKinney said.
Malloy, who has yet to announce whether he plans to seek re-election in November, bristled at the criticism.
"Connecticut Republicans would pray for clouds on a sunny day," he said.
Malloy also accused the GOP lawmakers of standing idly by when past Republican governors drove the state's overall indebtedness upward by delaying pension payments, not making full payments and other budget-balancing tactics.
"We can talk about bonded debt, but these same folks are more than happy to point out how big our (total) debt is," he said. "And therefore, I am more than happy to point out how much it shrunk during the three years that I've been governor."