Christine Stuart photo

About two dozen advocates from a number of organizations, including labor unions, gathered outside the governor’s residence in Hartford Monday to tell Gov. M. Jodi Rell there’s more than one way to plug the $8.8 billion state budget deficit.

Instead of cutting spending and programs, those who rallied outside the residence urged Rell to consider increasing taxes on the state’s wealthiest residents and corporations.

“There’s something you’re not going to hear today,” Phil Sherwood, deputy director of the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, said. “You’re not going to hear any evidence that this budget process and Gov. Rell’s executive order represents the shared journey that she promised.”

Christine Stuart photo

“What you will hear is evidence that Gov. Rell is attempting to force a budget that primarily takes aim at vital services, the middle class, and passes the buck onto local property taxpayers,” Sherwood said.

“We need to shift to a smarter, fairer, and more modern system that asks those with an ability to pay to pay their fair share,” Sherwood said. He also said that doesn’t mean the ‘Better Choices for Connecticut’ coalition is against streamlining government.

Rell and lawmakers have been at odds for months now on how to balance the budget deficit. Just last week, Rell vetoed a Democratic budget, which called for a $2.5 billion increase in taxes.

Last week also marked the first time that Rell and legislative leaders engaged in formal budget negotiations. Up until last week, the two sides hadn’t talked since late May. And since sitting down at the table again, none of the parties have spoken to the media about the state budget or the ongoing negotiations so it’s unclear exactly where each side currently stands.

There were no formal budget negotiations going on at the governor’s residence Monday, spokesmen from both the Republican and Democratic Party’s confirmed.

While it’s unclear when they will begin formal negotiations again, Rich Harris, spokesman for Rell said the two sides were working on reaching an agreement.

“The governor and legislative leaders are working right now to try a get a budget that’s agreeable to all sides,” Harris said. “That’s an effort that will continue.”

Meanwhile, Rell signed an executive order last week to make sure government programs and services don’t completely grind to a halt.

“First and foremost, people should rest assured that state government will continue to operate – services will be delivered; we will care for the vulnerable and the sick; public safety and public health will be protected,” Rell said in a press release last Tuesday.

“Apparently, that doesn’t include the 10,860 people living with HIV and AIDS in the state who remain among the most vulnerable and medically and socially fragile people ,” Shawn Lang, director of public policy for the CT AIDS Resource Coalition, said Monday.

Jeffrey Beckham, spokesman for Rell’s budget office said last Wednesday that all four HIV/AIDS programs that weren’t funded in the July executive order usually receive payments at the end of the month. He said if the governor needs to sign another executive order in August then all four programs will receive their funding in the first week of August.

Lang said she’ll believe it, when she sees it. Until then she’s going to continue to fight to restore the funding.

Those at the rally said that in addition to the HIV/AIDS funding Rell has cut funding to Family Resource Centers, Regional Education Service Centers, and has frozen student loans during the month of July.

Joe Antelmi, who is going to be a senior at the University of Connecticut next year, said the two scholarship programs he has benefited from in the past were also not funded in Rell’s July executive order. Antelmi, who says he comes from a low-income family, said without this two scholarship programs he may not have had an opportunity to attend college.

“They strengthen our workforce by increasing the number and quality of students who attend college in this state,” he said.

He said he is returning the state’s investment in him by competing for national scholarships and pursing a career in public service.

More on this HIV/AIDS specific issue will be available later this afternoon.