Subtle philosophical differences emerged between the two parties today when the Democrat-controlled Appropriations Committee released its $16.16 billion spending proposal. Appropriations Committee Co-Chair, state Rep. Denise Merrill, D-Mansfield, said the spending proposal represents a 7.3 percent increase in spending over last year’s budget. Gov. M. Jodi Rell proposed a 16.05 million budget. Merrill attributed most of the increase to the use of surplus dedicated to a proposed $245.6 million increase in the Teacher’s Retirement Fund. Republicans argued that the Democrat’s spending proposal ignored the state spending cap. Democrats countered it’s proposal may go over in 2006 with the use of surplus funds, but is still under the cap in 2007.
“The constitutional spending cap is the only mechanism we have to keep spending under control – and they act like it doesn’t exist. Well, it does, and we must protect it and the taxpayers,” Gov. M. Jodi Rell responded in a press release today. Sen. David Cappiello, R-Danbury, said today this is the second year of a biennial budget when the legislature is supposed to make adjustments to the 2006 budget. It’s “not the year we spend additional money,” he said. In addition, the adjustments create a $800 to $900 million deficit in 2008, he said. When asked where cuts were made, Merrill said there were cuts across the board in all departments, but was at a loss for significant items at a morning press briefing. The heaviest hit state agencies in the spending proposal approved 31 to 17 by the Appropriations Committee, were those that deliver human services. According to the non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis the Democrats proposal reduced Rell’s spending proposal for the Department of Social Services by about $76 million, the Department of Children and Families by about $1.3 million, and the Department of Mental Retardation by about $2.1 million. The committee’s proposal did provide a $30 million increase for nursing homes and $11.5 million for hospitals. In addition it provided funding for a $19 million alternative incarceration program, said to reduce jail and prison overcrowding and return $6.5 million savings in the first year, Merrill said. She said right now 20 percent of the incarcerated population gets out of prison without ever receiving services. Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, said this program will reduce the number of beds needed in the state prisons by about 1,300. Merrill said the committee is invested in results-based budgets and any new program, like the prison overcrowding initiative, will have goals and objectives it must meet or risk elimination. At the end of the day, Republicans felt the Democrats lost sight of Rell’s bigger picture outlined in her state-of-the-state address in February. Cappiello said the goal was to create jobs and make Connecticut a “business-friendly state.” But the Democrats proposal leaves, no room for tax cuts, he said. The Democrats may have increased funds for the economy, but cut Rell’s proposal to create an Office of Economic and Development Policy to study economic development policies and recommend changes, if needed. “Unfortunately, it is the taxpayers’ money they are spending. With a surplus well over $600 million, it is incredible that tax cuts, particularly those aimed at stimulating the economy and creating jobs are not included in this budget,” Rell said in her press release.But Merrill and Harp defended their spending proposal saying it reflected what the public and state agencies wanted. “I’m confident it speaks to Connecticut’s current needs,” Harp said. State Rep. Sonny Googins, R-Glastonbury, said she “loved the idea of governor’s office being responsible for job growth in the state.” She said creation of a cabinet position was a good investment for the state. Merrill said she doesn’t disagree that a cabinet level position “may be a good thing,” but not this year. Next week the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee will release its tax and revenue package.