(Updated 3:18 p.m.) Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell said Monday that the two-page list of $38.8 million in spending cuts she gave to the legislature’s Appropriations Committee last week were not recommendations, but a starting point for a discussion.
“The list that I gave to the Appropriations Committee is just that,” Rell said. “These are not recommendations that I endorse or support, but they are simply a list of items that they need to have in order to start the discussion.”
Rell made the suggestions after the legislature expressed interest in not lowering the benefit level for heating assistance this year despite the decrease in federal revenue for the Low-Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program.
This afternoon U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy held a press conference at the Waterbury Train Station to rally against the proposed elimination of train service to Waterbury, Danbury, and New Canaan.
“We are pumping federal and state resources into the state’s branch lines right now, so Governor Rell’s proposal to cancel service on these lines now would be a foolish mistake. On top of the federal grants we’ve already secured for commuter rail in Connecticut, there may be more to come, ushering in a new era in commuter rail in parts of the state that desperately need it. We can’t give up now – too much is riding on commuter rail,” said Murphy.
“I can understand the confusion and questions that people have so let me be quite clear: I do not and will not support cuts to the Metro-North branch lines – Danbury, Waterbury or New Canaan,” Rell said in a statement Monday. “The list of cuts was prepared by the Office of Policy and Management as a menu of options for the Legislature to consider as a way to fill a funding hole in the winter home heating assistance program for seniors and low-income families. In hindsight, I can see how inclusion of this item on the list sent the wrong message.“
Then why did it show up on a list of proposed cuts?
Rell said lawmakers ignored her warning that they needed to reduce the amount of benefits received by those approved for the program, but the Appropriations Committee voted 25 to 2 to maintain the benefits at their current levels in September. Republican Reps. Pam Sawyer of Bolton and Rep. Craig Miner of Litchfield voted against the proposal.
Rep. John Geragosian, co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee said Wednesday afternoon that he hasn’t had time to go over the cuts Rell proposed, but he continues to hold out hope that “we can all sit down and say we don’t want people to lose their heating assistance.“
In a letter Geragosian and Sen. Toni Harp sent to Rell last week they suggested funds from within the Department of Social Services could be transferred to cover the gap in federal funding. Also they said it’s unclear at the moment whether the program will even run out of money because as of Nov. 15 only $1.2 million out of $72 million had been spent.
They also suggested that Rell reduce spending in her agencies that are running deficiencies and not “otherwise adhering to their legislatively approved budget.”
Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney of New Haven said Rell should consider the recommendations Harp and Geragosian made in their letter to her last week. He said it should consider transferring funds from other Department of Social Services accounts through the Financial Advisory Committee process.
He said it’s also too early to tell if the program will even run out of money.
“If it becomes clear there’s a shortfall we need to address then we should transfer funds through the FAC process,” Looney concluded.
Geragosian suggested Monday that the two sides sit down and talk about how to handle the issue instead of sending letters back and forth.
“Regardless, of what was said we are willing to sit down with the administration and work this out,” Geragosian said. And based on the timing with a month left in Rell’s administration, Geragosian suggested Governor-elect Dan Malloy should also be involved in the discussion.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, wondered if Democrats aren’t willing to make the $38 million in cuts now, how a Democratic governor is going to change anything. Cafero said the Democrat-controlled legislature could have fixed this in September, but decided to move forward with last year’s benefit levels.
“We’re worried about later, and later is now,” Cafero said. “A lot of this could be mitigated or avoided.”