As they have for the past five years, the legislature’s Republican minority released their own alternative budget proposal Thursday, but unlike previous years there was little they could offer aside from about $28 million in cuts to the current budget.
The most radical of the Republican proposals increases by 12 the number of positions in the state’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and increases by 26 the number of new positions in the fraud unit inside the Department of Social Services. Republicans estimate the state will save $102.2 million from the move.
The Republican budget proposal will be offered as an amendment to the Democratic budget proposal being voted upon later today by the Appropriations Committee.
“There are areas where the governor has tied the hands of everyone,” Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said.
For example, the state has to spend $125 million on state employee pensions because of an agreement reached with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition.
“We couldn’t reduce one person,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said. “This isn’t a Republican budget, it’s a Republican reaction to the governor’s midterm budget adjustments.”
Democratic lawmakers, who were busy explaining their own budget proposal, which spends about $1 million less than Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s, said they were unable to respond to the Republican budget because they hadn’t seen it. When they finally got a glimpse of the 55-page document they voted it down along party lines.
The Republican budget also restores the sales tax exemption on clothing purchases under $50, restores the $500 property tax credit and the sales tax exemption for non-prescription drugs. It also caps the gasoline gross receipts tax at 7.53 percent per gallon.
Education reform may be on the top of Malloy’s agenda, but Republicans also were happy to offer their own take on that as well. They proposed adding 750 new school readiness slots to pre-kindergarten programs, increasing the Vocational Agricultural school funding by $5 million, and setting aside $85 million for increased Education Cost Sharing, a Commissioner’s Network, and talent development.
The Republican budget also finds money to hire 168 state troopers, which would bring the state police force into compliance with the statutory minimum of 1,248 troopers. They estimate the new hiring will cost the state $8.9 million, but will result in a $4.9 million reduction in overtime the following year. Malloy has proposed getting rid of the statutory mandate which his staff has called “arbitrary.”
Cafero said he hopes Democratic lawmakers will look at some of the ideas Republicans put forth in the proposal.
“Do I hope that they would look at various sections and aspects and proposals within our budget and say ‘you know what that might not be a bad idea’? I hope so,” Cafero said. “Frankly, I think the public expects that as well.”
Malloy’s Senior Communications Adviser Roy Occhiogrosso disagreed.
“This is the kind of math that got Connecticut in trouble in the first place: we can cut taxes, maintain the quality of life everyone expects, and all of this will be paid for by magic pots of money that, in reality, don’t exist,” he said.
“While reducing Medicaid fraud is a laudable goal, assuming that we can find more fraud simply by hiring more investigators is like saying that a violin would sound better if it had more strings. And allocating $9 million won’t cover the cost of adding 168 new state troopers to the state’s payroll,” he said. “The administration is certainly open to ideas on how to help Connecticut continue its recovery, but going back to the old way of doing business won’t get us there. And that’s all the Republican budget represents: the way things were done around here for too long.”
Republican lawmakers seem to be turning up the heat on the Democratic majority by placing a large television screen outside their offices on the third floor of the Legislative Office Building. The screen is displaying latest Office of Fiscal Analysis deficit number along with the number of days left in the current fiscal year.