(Updated 4:19 p.m.) Like Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget the Republican’s alternative budget comes with a set of principles, but it’s a different set of principles and not one that calls for “shared sacrifice.”
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said his caucus knows that over the last two years everyone in the state of Connecticut has been sacrificing. He said unemployed families have learned to sacrifice and “the only area where there’s been no sacrifice is government.”
“The unemployment rate in state government is zero,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said at a press conference to explain the no-tax increase budget proposal.
To that end the Republican budget proposes no new tax increases and $1.5 billion in spending cuts, but they’re not across the board cuts and they do not include the sale of state assets as Republican budget proposals have in the past. The Republican budget released Tuesday also does not cut municipal aid even though it shifts Town Aid Road to the capital budget. Malloy’s budget also avoids cuts to municipal aid.
The Republican budget does close seven rest areas, the Department of Motor Vehicles in New Britain, and ends Chester to Hadlyme and Glastonbury to Rocky Hill ferry service. It also proposes consolidating state agencies to save $47.9 million, changes how poor and disabled persons receive Medicaid, and eliminates unemployment benefits for part-time workers.
Perhaps the most controversial piece of the Republican budget is the Medicaid waiver which they say will help the state avoid costly payments for federal health care mandates and save the state $70 million in the first year and $140 million in the second year of the budget. The proposal actually requires the Department of Social Services to apply an asset test, instead of the current income test, for anyone applying for the program. It’s unclear exactly how many fewer people would be allowed to stay in the program if the asset test was applied.
Overall Republicans said their budget spends $1.5 billion less than Malloy’s budget in the first fiscal year, and $1.4 billion in the next fiscal year. It also proposes laying off 2,700 non-union employees, which Republicans estimated was a five percent reduction in the state workforce. Another 834 vacant positions wouldn’t be filled even though some of those are union positions.
The Republican workforce reductions come from elimination of currently vacant positions, a hard hiring freeze, consolidation of state agencies, and elimination of 1,380 management positions.
Malloy said he hasn’t read the Republican proposal yet, but will.
“I will read it I promise. I did see in one of the news reports that they want to close those two ferries up, I’m not for that,” Malloy said on his way out of the state Capitol.
And while he appreciated their confidence in his ability to negotiate $2 billion in union concessions, he thinks proposing layoffs as the Republicans have won’t help further those discussions.
“To some extent, I’ve got deal with the reality of what is possible and what is not possible given a 20-year contract one of my predecessors signed in 1997,“ Malloy said.
Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s senior communications adviser, said a preliminary glance at the Republican proposal shows that it’s not balanced.
“The Republicans’ budget assumes more than $500 million in unidentified savings across state government,“ Occhiogrosso said in a statement. “The Republicans have had more than two months since the Governor proposed his budget to identify specific savings, but instead have chosen to assign an arbitrary dollar figure to a line-item and call it a cut. They also include a proposal to ‘restructure’ $200 million in debt in FY 2012, which is one-time budget gimmick and a ‘savings’ in name only.”
McKinney said Republicans are proposing to shift $200 million of the state’s high interest borrowing to lower interest borrowing. He said it’s not a gimmick it’s what people do every day when they switch their credit card balance from a high interest rate card to a lower one.
As for the $500 million in unidentified savings, McKinney said his caucus went through the budget line-by-line and there’s nothing unidentified in their plan. He said it’s possible he didn’t have time to go over everything in the one-hour press conference, but it’s all there in fine print.
The Republican budget also proposes hiring 20 employees for a new Medicaid fraud unit which it estimates will bring in about $224 million in savings.
In order to bring in some additional revenue it proposes a tax amnesty program which it assumes will bring in about $25 million and proposes an automated vehicle insurance identification enforcement system to track down registration and insurance scofflaws to the tune of $150 million per year.
It also eliminates the Citizens’ Election Program, which helps fund lawmakers campaigns. The elimination saves $44.2 million over the next two years.
As they have in the past Republicans consolidated all the legislative commissions such as the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, African-American Affairs Commission, and the other four legislative commissions. McKinney suspected that consolidation of six commissions into one will cause people to “howl.”
But that’s not what Democrats are howling about.
“In a matter of days, the Finance and Appropriations committees are scheduled to vote on the legislative budget recommendations. Our budget will be responsible, not political,” House Speaker Chris Donovan and House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey said in a statement. “We appreciate the efforts of legislative Republicans to address the state’s budget issues, but are troubled by many aspects of their proposal.”
Donovan and Sharkey called the Medicaid savings assumptions “unrealistic” and said other cuts will do harm to the safety net for low income elderly residents.
Senate President Donald Williams and Majority Leader Martin Looney said at least a portion of the Republican budget is part fantasy.
“Two examples: it relies on $224 million from reducing Medicaid fraud – but the state already has this initiative and is only expecting a $30 million return. Republicans also double-count savings from loan-restructuring and include cuts that violate the Sheff vs. O’Neil settlement.”
Check back later for more.