Gov. Dannel P. Malloy used his rescission authority Wednesday to cut $170 million from the state budget, which is estimated to end the year with a $365 million deficit. But his rescissions only lowered the deficit to $240 million because some of the cuts already were assumed.
Malloy has the authority to rescind up to 5 percent of any line item and 3 percent of any fund without seeking legislative approval. He will need the General Assembly, which already has agreed to rescind $3 million, to close the gap.
The social safety net will be impacted by the cuts. More than $82 million come from agencies that administer social services. The Department of Social Services is taking a $32 million cut and the Developmental Services Department will be cut by $21 million. The Department of Children and Families will be asked to reduce spending by $18 million.
Other social services departments will have their budgets reduced as well. The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services’ budget will be reduced by $7.7 million, the Public Health Department by $2 million.
The Veterans Affairs Department budget also will be reduced by $177,000, of which $17,500 had been budgeted for veterans’ headstones.
Budget Director Ben Barnes said the agencies administering social services programs will have to work hard to make sure the cuts don’t harm the state’s most vulnerable populations.
“It will only be because of the success and hard work of the commissioners in finding ways to find efficiencies in these programs,” Barnes said.
Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s senior communications adviser, said he didn’t think those populations would be harmed, but rather that they will “feel the impact in a way that makes none of us happy.”
There also were rescissions not based upon cuts, but instead upon new estimates of how much the state will save in various areas, according to Barnes.
The state expects to save $28 million in the state employee health services account by spending less on health services because of changes implemented under the state employee concession agreement reach in 2011.
“We just think the costs are running lower so we were able to rescind those dollars from that account,” Barnes said.
About $41 million of the $161.6 million in executive branch cuts fell into this category, Barnes said.
“There were already some dollars on this list we had identified we would be able to live without,” he said.
The rescissions made Wednesday ran the gamut from social services to higher education to arts funding.
AIDS services were cut $248,000, while arts organizations like the Bushnell Theater will receive $10,000 less in funding. Education services such as grants to priority school districts also were cut $1 million and magnet schools were cut $2 million. Early childhood education was for the most part spared, Barnes said.
The state’s higher education system will see its funding reduced by almost $26 million. The University of Connecticut’s block grants are being reduced by $10 million.
Barnes said he hoped that wouldn’t lead the school to raise its tuition. Last year, UConn’s Board of Trustees voted to raise student tuition by around 6 percent a year over four years.
“I believe that all the units of higher education can find ways to adjust their operations to accommodate these cuts,” Barnes said.
Occhiogrosso said to look at any one of the cuts in isolation misses the larger point, which “is that this governor inherited an enormous mess. It took 20 years to dig that hole. It’s going to take more than 20 months for us to dig out of it.”
“Nobody likes cutting services, but when you take a tax increase off the table you have limited options to act unilaterally,” he added.
Republican lawmakers agreed that no one likes cutting services but said these rescissions wouldn’t have been necessary if Malloy had crafted an honest budget in the first place.
“The budget from two years ago had massive problems and now we’re starting to see those problems,” Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said outside the state Capitol.
Fasano said the state should never have raised spending while in the midst of an economic recession.
“Those are the types of things you can’t do but he gambled. Gov. Malloy said ‘this is the way to do it. Here’s the largest tax increase in Connecticut’s history, we’ll spend another billion dollars more of money, and you know what it’s going to be fine we’re going to work it out.’ But we saw what is happening now,” Fasano said.
Occhiogrosso said Republicans are wrong to blame the deficit on Malloy’s budget. States across the country are dealing with budgetary problems based on lagging revenue and higher-than-expected expenditures through Medicaid, he said. Earlier Wednesday, Occhiogrosso emailed reporters a Boston Globe story regarding Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s efforts to deal with similar problems.
“It’s happening in neighboring states, it’s happening in states across the country, states with Republican governors, states with Democratic governors. That is an incorrect analysis,” he said of Republicans’ criticisms.
Regardless of what necessitated them, Fasano said Malloy’s rescissions were a start in addressing the budget. He suggested people look to the budget Republicans proposed two years ago for ideas on where to trim state government. So far, Senate Republicans have not been contacted for ideas, he said. They’re planning to meet with the governor’s office in early December, he said.
“I just hope that this process is not like it was two years ago. I hope he does open the door. I hope Republicans are invited to the room. We may agree to disagree, but we need to have that conversation. I think the people of Connecticut deserve that conversation,” Fasano said.