Tough budget choices

Both the Democratic governor and the Republican minority in the legislature have stepped up in the past week with policies to address the $220 million deficit confronting the state in the current fiscal year. Yet the public has yet to hear from the groups that truly control the purse strings, the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Tough decisions have to be made, and soon. About three months remains in the fiscal year, not much time to close the gap in the $20 billion budget.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Wednesday ordered $79 million in reductions, acting within his limited authority to adjust the budget without legislative approval. About half the cuts hit social service programs. Malloy’s reductions do not spread the pain, but the governor’s options are narrowed by the requirements in labor contracts and by legislative mandates.

House and Senate Republican leaders, meanwhile, disclosed this past week their plan for closing the $220 million shortfall while restoring $140 million in expenditures owed to hospitals but cut earlier by Malloy. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have called the hospital cuts unfair.

The Republican proposal would chop 15 percent in the fourth-quarter from most state agencies, ask state worker unions to accept two-day unpaid furloughs for most state employees, cut positions in the Malloy administration and, in a largely symbolic gesture, temporarily cut the pay of legislators by 10 percent.

In what appeared to be a signal to his fellow Democrats in legislative leadership positions that they had better produce a plan, or risk seeing the governor work with a coalition of Republicans and willing Democrats to close the deficit, a Malloy spokesman reacted positively to the minority proposal. He called it an “honest effort” and said the governor, while not in full agreement, would sign it if it reached his desk.

Some of the GOP proposals are impractical, for instance cutting by half the fourth quarter payments to charter schools, leaving them insufficient time to adjust and meet the educational needs of their students. The proposed cuts would effectively reduce the per pupil payment to charter schools from $11,000, which is already about $4,000 less than traditional public schools receive on average, down to about $9,600.

Meanwhile, the deep cuts in municipal aid would mean larger property tax hikes at the local level.

But it is a plan, one to which the majority party needs to respond. It only gets tougher after this, with larger deficits looming in the fiscal years to come.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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