Hospital cuts, municipal funding changes, and borrowing are all ideas Gov. Dannel P. Malloy put forth in February when he released his $43.8 billion budget for the next two years. On Friday, lawmakers get to offer their own tax and spend proposal, but so far details of the proposal seem to be the best kept secret at the Capitol.
But that didn’t stop lawmakers from offering an opinion on a document most of them haven’t seen.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said Wednesday that he expects that Democrats will choose to adopt the bulk of Malloy’s proposal and at least maintain his level of spending.
“What I expect to come from [the Appropriations Committee] is very little change from what the governor’s proposed,” he said. “. . . I don’t expect there’s going to be any relief or any consideration given to the hospitals, which are completely devastated by this.”
Cafero said Democrats have left themselves little in the way of options for reducing the size of state government due to a the bargaining agreement Malloy entered into with state employees in 2011, which guarantees them protection from layoffs.
“They can’t let people go. They can’t lay off people. They can’t do any consolidations,” he said.
Cafero said Republicans had input on the budget at the subcommittee level, but there has been no other communication as to what Democrats intend to include in the budget they’re “planning behind closed doors,” he said.
“I think there’s a game being played. I think the game is going to be played between Finance and Approps. Finance is probably not willing to increase taxes and Approps wants to paint a picture that’s so ugly and so bad, especially with regard to the hospitals, that it’s almost like ‘If you really don’t want to raise taxes, here’s your option’,” he said. “It is pathetic that they are playing out this little philosophical feud at the expense of Connecticut.”
Democratic House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said Republicans will be welcomed to the budget negotiating table if they can be “good faith participants” in that process. He said there has been a level of trust developed with the Republicans during last year’s deficit mitigation negotiations and the bipartisan effort on gun legislation, but “budgets in general have traditionally been not the stuff of bipartisan compromise.”
He said a budget document is traditionally based on “partisan position taking.”
“I think it will be on the minority leadership to demonstrate that they’re willing to be good faith participants in a process,” Sharkey said.
Sen. Republican leader John McKinney said his party is waiting for an invitation to be part of budget negotiations, but he did not agree that budget negotiations were necessarily a partisan process.
“Budgets were never partisan up until the election of Gov. Malloy,” McKinney said.
That’s when a Democrat took over the governor’s office and held onto their majority in the legislature.
McKinney said that under former Govs. Lowell Weicker, John Rowland, and M. Jodi Rell, budget negotiations were not partisan. McKinney said Republicans will wait for their invitation to the negotiations, but they also will offer an alternative budget proposal vetted by the nonpartisan staff at the Office of Fiscal Analysis.
There’s been plenty of Republican criticism of Malloy’s budget, but there’s been an equal amount of criticism from Democratic lawmakers.
“Many of us who are looking at the budget are saying ‘I just don’t think it’s the budget to pass out of here,’” Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, said.
Whether it’s municipal funding changes or hospital cuts, there are large numbers of people impacted by the governor’s budget, so many so that “I don’t where you would be from to not be affected by one of these groups,” Holder-Winfield said.
He speculated that the governor’s budget is not going to be the budget that ultimately passes.
Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, said she has wanted to see funding restored to area hospitals in the legislature’s budget proposal. The governor’s budget included an estimated $550 million in cuts to hospital formulas, including the redistribution of funds for uninsured patients.
“I’m very anxious about how that’s going to work out. That was such an enormous amount of money that it’s at the level of a larger policy shift in very many respects and I’ve spent much of this session working hard to understand from all sides. I’m not quite sure yet I still do,” she said.
Asked about the cuts to hospitals last week, the governor said hospitals were spending money faster than the state can generate it. Hospital employees packed the Legislative Office Building to oppose the cuts. Malloy said preserving the hospital funding would result in a tax hike.
“What they’re saying is ‘Hey, raise our taxes another $250 million this year and another $250 million the next year.’ Everybody who’s got a different cause is saying the same thing,” he said.
Ritter said she “sincerely hoped” the legislature would not need to raise taxes. But she said she did not believe the issue was as simple as a choice between raising taxes and cutting hospital funding.
“I don’t completely buy that logic because there were other initiatives in the budget that also were new policy initiatives and I think they have to be equally weighed against what I consider to be the policy initiative in terms of the hospitals’ money. I don’t think it’s a straightforward either or,” she said.
She used Malloy’s bonding initiatives aimed at the University of Connecticut and the state’s bioscience industry as an example. The governor has pushed a plan to bond more than $1.5 billion for UConn over the next 10 years.
“That also comes with an understanding that there’s going to be operational side budgetary impacts along with it,” she said.
Ritter also was critical of a provision in Malloy’s proposal that changed the eligibility requirements for the Husky A Medicaid program.
“We had done a lot of work to try to make sure we understood the impact that would have on their ability to afford health insurance under the exchange, which was the governor’s idea, it was what would be there for them. There were a lot of questions about that,” she said.
Appropriations Committee Co-Chairwoman Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, declined to comment on what will be in the spending package released Friday.
But on Tuesday she did say the committee had to realign the governor’s proposal to base it off the current services budget as a result of changes the Malloy administration made in presenting its budget.
This year’s budget recommendations came in a condensed form that reduced the number of specific line items broken out for inspection.
“It also implemented some reductions that were not very visible unless you unbundled some of the items that were in there. So it was important for our members to really understand exactly how much money we were talking about going through . . . and we had to do it in that way,” she said.
Asked if that was a statement, Holder-Winfield said it’s a statement on the governor’s budget whether it’s intended to be that way or not.