(Updated 6 p.m.) Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced her second round of budget cuts Tuesday and while most of the $35 million in additional rescissions were realized through her previously established hiring freeze, cuts were also made to social services and youth programs.
“Every program, every service, is important to someone,” Rell said. “Changing or reducing them – especially in a time when the economy is in flux – is difficult. However, we cannot shirk these choices simply because they are difficult.”
Rell said the cuts she ordered will not be enough to bring the state budget back into balance. “More rescissions remain a possibility,” she said. “It is a process that we cannot afford to delay until the next session begins in January.”
This summer Rell enacted a hiring freeze and ordered $150 million in cuts to the fiscal year 2009 budget. This month the budget deficit grew to an estimated $300 million, which prompted Rell to make her second round of cuts.
Rell can cut the budget of any state agency up to 5 percent. She is not allowed to cut entitlement programs or aid to cities and towns without coming to the legislature for approval.
In this second round of cuts, the biggest was made to the Department of Children and Families budget. More than $9.8 million in residential services, safe homes, transitional apartments, emergency shelters, and group homes for children in state custody was cut in Rell’s most recent round of rescissions.
A recent stipulated court agreement between the DCF and Children’s Rights, the organization that filed a class action lawsuit against the state in 1989 to get it to overhaul its child welfare system, included guidelines to reduce the number of children placed in group homes and emergency shelters.
Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, who co-chairs the legislature’s Appropriations Committee said Tuesday in a phone interview that her committee has been questioning DCF about that line item for years. She said her committee noticed that there always seemed to be a lapse in that account. In the past the agency told the committee it had to keep the money there so it wouldn’t violate the consent decree, she said.
The governor’s Budget Secretary Robert Genuario said Tuesday that “It’s fair to say a bulk of these rescissions and savings can be realized through the effective roll-out of the prior programs,” which is the case with DCF’s budget. He said this rescission means DCF is doing a good job at getting children in its custody into community and other less restrictive settings.
Still more savings were realized from lapses in the Department of Social Services budget, which Democratic lawmakers announced last week should be audited because it believes there’s a $100 million surplus in the department’s Medicaid accounts.
According to Rell’s recent list of rescissions for the Department of Social Services there’s a $2 million lapse in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, an extra $1.76 million in “other expenses”, $1.25 million in personal services, and $1,763 in Human Resources Development.
Genuario said this second round of budget cuts was an exercise in “tightening our belt and looking at each line item very carefully.”
“These are challenging economic times for our nation and our state, and the Legislature recognized this early on by working with the Governor on a bipartisan basis, which included giving her the authority to make rescission decisions up to certain thresholds,” Speaker of the House James Amann, D-Milford, said in an emailed statement Tuesday afternoon.
“We have also asked the state comptroller to look for inefficiencies that can save us further dollars,” he said. “We all recognize the serious challenge ahead and we must turn that challenge into government’s opportunity to lead.”
The Department of Corrections continues to be spared from cuts, but this time the Department of Public Safety was asked to delay purchasing more vehicles and save the state some money by reducing its non-reimbursable overtime. The total savings realized by these two measures would save the state $1.4 million.
Also cut was about $8.6 million from the Department of Developmental Services, which used to be called the Department of Mental Retardation. Harp said she’s concerned with the $1 million cut to residential services because there’s still a waiting list for those services.
“Could mean that some persons/families will remain on the waiting list for a longer period of time until the agency can make a placement,” the note underneath the line item reads. It also notes that “as clients or a family leave the system due to relocation or otherwise, funding is freed up for DDS to make ‘opportune placements’.”
Genuario said nobody will lose services and everyone already approved to move off the waiting list will be given services.
Harp said she expects that the legislature’s Appropriations Committee will convene a meeting to talk to state agency heads about what exactly these cuts mean to the public.
Meanwhile, the state Comptroller will decide Wednesday whether the deficit has reached 1 percent of the state budget, which is enough to require Rell to present a deficit reduction plan to the legislature within 30 days.