While Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell was in Bristol Tuesday promoting her “Staycation” program, Democratic lawmakers were at Backus Hospital in Norwich criticizing her proposed $1.39 million cut in funding to the Life Star helicopter program.
Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said in a phone interview Tuesday that Life Star helicopters transport 1,400 patients to hospitals annually. He said cutting the subsidy would put “people’s safety and possibly lives at risk.”
“There is absolutely a smarter way to make cuts,” Williams said.
“I don’t want to make any cuts,” Rell said in Bristol. “I don’t want to cut a program, I don’t want to cut Life Star, I don’t want to cut a school, I don’t want to cut courthouse, but our state is facing an $8 billion deficit and we have to make cuts.”
Rell’s budget office spokesman Jeffrey Beckham said Tuesday that the $1.39 million for the Life Star program is a subsidy and does not cover the entire operation of the two helicopters. One helicopter is stationed at Backus Hospital and one is stationed at Hartford Hospital.
The Life Star program has been around since 1985, according to the Life Star Web site, but Beckham said the subsidy wasn’t part of the state budget until 2002.
“The hospital is a for-profit enterprise that can make some internal efficiencies and reallocate its resources, just as the state is having to do in this difficult economic time, and continue the program even with the loss of this small subsidy,” Beckham said.
Back to the bargaining table?
Rell said she was calling legislative leaders Tuesday to ask when they will get back together to continue budget negotiations.
Democratic lawmakers have said budget talks stopped back on May 27 when Rell’s administration walked away from the table and never returned.
However, it seems like the two sides may still be at an impasse.
“To date there has been no willingness to cut spending, only to say we can’t cut that program or that program or that program,” Rell said Tuesday. “When that willingness is there then we should be able to sit down and talk.”
But Democratic lawmakers have said for budget negotiations to continue everything has to be on the table.
“We can get back into the room if everyone is willing to put aside the budget rhetoric and politics,” Williams said Tuesday.
If a state budget isn’t adopted by June 30, all sides agree there could be a fair amount of chaos that results.
Rell said she has been looking at what her predecessors, former Gov. John Rowland and former Gov. Lowell Weicker Jr., did in similar situations without a state budget for July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
“There are some things we are able to do just by executive order, hopefully we would have a continuing resolution that would help us in paying for necessary expenses as the month unveils,” Rell said. “I have instructed all of our commissioners to put together exactly what they have to pay for, if it is absolutely necessary.”
She said all of those that are statutorily required will be paid for on a month-to-month basis.
The Department of Labor has asked us to sign for summer youth employment, “if we don’t have the money I can’t sign the contract,” Rell said. And on the last night of session legislators failed to pass an appropriation to use $11 million in stimulus funds for summer youth employment, so even absent the state money Rell said she can’t use the federal dollars until the legislature appropriates it.
Click here to read last week’s article on what Republican and Democratic lawmakers seem to agree on when it comes to the state budget.