(Updated 2:33 p.m.) There were both winners and losers in the $37.6 billion budget that will go into effect next Tuesday without the Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s signature.
Some lawmakers were happy their projects were funded, others were relieved theirs were spared, but others weren’t as lucky.
Environmentalists were cleaned out.
The Clean Air Account and dozens of other Department of Environmental Protection funds were cleaned out, including accounts for Long Island Sound, Wildlife Conservation, Environmental Quality, and many more.
In a Tuesday morning press release three environmental groups expressed dismay at the decision to empty the off-budget accounts and transfer the money to the general budget. They were especially upset about the elimination of the Clean Air account.
“Eliminating the Clean Air Fund sends a message that efforts to mitigate climate change are not a priority, and it is a big step back from the work that state leaders have already done to ensure that Connecticut is leading the way to a clean energy future,” Charles Rothenberger, an attorney with the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, said in a press release.
The budget also cut funding to the University of Connecticut, Connecticut State University System, and the Regional Community Technical Colleges by $14 million over the next two years. None of the lawmakers addressed this cut in their floor speeches, but at least one lawmaker, Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, expressed concern over the cut to the community college system at a time when enrollment is up.
The budget also effectively closed J.M. Wright Technical High School in Stamford, but did provide $2,500 per student to help pay for the cost of busing them to Henry Abbott Technical High School in Danbury.
However, a group of Charter Schools are declaring victory because $8 million was restored, which means schools like Jumoke Academy in Hartford and Amistad Academy in New Haven can continue to add grades as planned.
A handful of Democratic lawmakers might have been winners for a while because they were able to bring a little extra money home to their districts with a last-minute $26 million amendment that included, among other things, funding for a food pantry in Manchester and a nature center in Ansonia. But they can now be added to the losers column because Rell promised to use her authority to line-item veto the estimated $8.3 million if those funds.
Other losers in the budget include Medicaid recipients who now must cope with a new definition of “medical necessity.” The state is hoping the move will save $4.5 million in 2011 while also establishing an oversight committee to help the Department of Social Services file the inevitable appeals related to the change.
Health care advocates argued that changing the definition means the state Department of Social Services can restrict access to prescription drugs, medical equipment, dental care, mental health treatment, and medical tests for 420,000 Medicaid recipients.
Kelly Phenix, who was asked to speak at a recent press conference about the issue by Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, said she’s outraged.
“I wonder if his office thought that trotting out someone with a mental illness and then dismissing the topic she was asked to speak about is acceptable?” Phenix said in an email Tuesday.
Phenix, who suffers from bipolar disorder and other chronic medical conditions, said it took her four years to figure out which medication worked best for her illness. Changing the definition now means she may end up at square one, which she argues would end up costing the state more money.
Laura Jordan, Donovan’s chief of staff, said Tuesday that the language change was a real sticking point with the administration. She said Democratic lawmakers will be keeping a close eye on the change to make sure those in need of the medical equipment and drugs receive them.
“If it becomes a problem, we’ll resist it,” Jordan said.
In the end Jordan said she didn’t know how much of a difference the change will mean because the state already has adopted similar language for low-income adults on the SAGA health care program and the “sky didn’t fall.”
The Office of the Child Advocate was restored and State Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein couldn’t have been happier. She was in the halls of the Capitol all day Monday thanking lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for restoring her office.
In February, Rell had proposed eliminating or consolidating 23 agencies as part of her initial budget proposal.
The budget also funds two positions in the Office of the Health Care Advocate to help the volunteer board of directors implement the new SustiNet legislation.
Funding for the governor’s office and lieutenant governor’s office also was restored, in addition to the governor’s membership dues to belong to the National Governor’s Association.
The budget also restored about $14.8 million in Workforce Investment Act funds. And none of the state’s courts will be closed, however, the budget does include plans to close two prisons.
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And while they’re not declaring victory just yet, advocates who would like to see 16 and 17 years old youth treated as juveniles in the criminal justice system are happy that there is funding in the budget to bring at least the 16 year olds under the juvenile system. Rell had proposed delaying the implementation of the 2007 law by two years.
As with most of these budget items, many are waiting to see what happens with budget implementation language that has yet to be adopted. The implementation language will further flesh out the intention of the budget figures and victories may be won or lost on how things are worded.