GOP touts budget with no new taxes
Hartford - Republican lawmakers unveiled their alternative to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposed budget Tuesday by showcasing first what it doesn't do.
"Our budget does not create any new taxes in any way, shape or form," House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Ca-fero Jr. said before a crowded room of Republican legislators and news reporters at the state Capitol. "Kick it, scratch it, rip it apart - do whatever you want. But at least it's an alternative to what we have out there."
The GOP lawmakers say their $36.5 billion two-year spending plan would bridge Connecticut's two-year, $3.3 billion deficit without the Democratic governor's $1.5 billion package of tax increases.
The Republican proposed budget calls for slashing spending by $1.5 billion more than that offered in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's $40 billion plan for the next two fiscal years. At the same time, the Republicans say they would preserve municipal aid at current levels.
The plan would retain the full $500 property tax credit that the governor now wants to reduce to $300 for most households after having first sought to eliminate it.
It would eliminate and combine 36 state agencies into just nine agencies and trim the state work force by 5 percent by cutting the number of full-time equivalent positions from about 54,000 to 51,300 through layoffs and attrition.
Through the use of wai-vers, the GOP budget would reduce Medicaid benefits to some recipients for a $210 million savings; an additional $224 million in savings would come through a more vigorous effort against Medicaid fraud.
The GOP budget would also eliminate public financing for elections; a savings of $44 million.
In southeastern Connecticut, the GOP plan would stop the Chester-Hadlyme ferry across the Connecticut River. Republicans said privatization would be an option.
Their budget also includes a potential funding cut to Mystic Aquarium in Stonington.
Like Malloy's proposal, the Republican alternative depends on $1 billion in annual labor savings from state workers. The governor's administration remains in talks with labor leaders for those concessions.
During their joint presentation, Cafero and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Southport, said the GOP budget would not borrow money to fund state operations or involve the sale of state assets.
McKinney said their guiding vision is a downsizing of state government.
"The only area where there's no sacrifice is government," he said. "The private sector has shed over 100,000 jobs, government has increased jobs. That's the perspective we bring to this - government is too big."
Republicans said they held their own listening tour in recent weeks while Malloy made his round of 17 town hall meetings. "What we heard was cut spending," Cafero said.
But Malloy's senior adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, liked little of what he heard about the Republican budget.
"This budget is not balanced, it relies on fiscal gimmicks, hurts job growth, cuts important funding in education, shreds the safety net, and fundamentally undermines clean elections in our state," he said in a written statement.
Occhiogrosso listed specific criticisms: the GOP budget hinges on $500 million in unidentified savings; it depends on a one-time, $200 million debt-refinancing maneuver; it cuts a marketing effort for luring new employers to the state; makes cuts that would disproportionately affect low-income school districts and it cuts too deeply into Medicaid.
"They've proposed a budget they know the governor won't sign," Occhiogrosso said.
Senate President Donald Williams Jr. and Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, both Democrats, said in a joint statement that the Republican plan "contains some worthwhile cost-savings ideas that are already being considered by the General Assembly's budget committees … Unfortunately, on the whole, the GOP scheme doesn't appear to be a credible budget. It is a fantasy, full of fiscal gimmicks."
State Rep. Christopher Coutu, R-Norwich, who took part in crafting the GOP budget, said the plan is a sound alternative that "puts citizens' needs ahead of the government."
The "average family" would save $2,000 over two years if the state enacts the alternative plan, Coutu said.
Asked what the most painful service cuts would be, Coutu said that some Medicaid recipients might see new co-pays under the GOP budget. "We're not going to kick them out of the system, it's just so that we don't have to raise taxes on them," he said.
Coutu said the GOP plan would maintain a rebate program popular with some cities and towns that is known as the Payment in Lieu of Taxes Manufacturing Machinery and Equipment. The governor's budget would end the program.
The GOP's plan faces grim odds in the Democrat-controlled legislative chambers, and Republican leaders acknowledged that much in Monday's rollout. Nevertheless, they expect greater receptiveness from Democrats this year than there might have been in the past because of the state's financial shape.
"It's our hope that they will take a look at this," Cafero said.
The legislature's Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee is expected to vote on the tax portion of Malloy's budget this week or early next week. The governor seeks $1.5 billion in tax increases. Republicans claim the tax increases are closer to $1.9 billion, but Democrats insist that's not the case.
Williams, the Senate president, told reporters Tuesday morning that he expects legislators to make "some minor tweaks and alterations" to the Malloy budget. The plan that he expects to emerge "will mirror very closely the framework that the governor has outlined."
Coutu said he knows of several Democratic lawmakers from eastern and southeastern Connecticut who have serious concerns with the Malloy plan.
"There are elected Democrats that I've talked to who are looking for something more in line with a no-tax increase," he said.
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