The state may be on track to end this fiscal year with a more than $504 million surplus, but nonpartisan fiscal analysts say the 2015 budget is running a $69.4 million deficit and Republican lawmakers say it’s Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s fault.
Senate Republican Leader John McKinney and House Republican Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr. said Monday that the governor deliberately ignored warnings last fall from the state Comptroller and Education Department when he shortchanged retirees’ healthcare and magnet schools in the budget he proposed in February.
“It is clear now that the governor willfully disregarded what people in his own administration presented to him in their budget requests last October and November, months before he put out his budget,’’ Cafero said. “We know now the budget was out of whack the moment he dropped it and exceeded the spending cap.’’
The Office of Fiscal Analysis released projections last week that show the 2015 budget will be in deficit $69.4 million and the 2016 budget will be in deficit by $1.035 billion.
According to nonpartisan fiscal analysts the state is on track to spend $91.7 million more than anticipated in the 2015 budget adjustment released by the governor’s office in February. Most of that spending, about $51 million, is related to higher-than-expected costs for retiree healthcare costs. The request to adjust the fringe benefit account was made by the Comptroller’s office on Oct. 15. Republican lawmakers say the budget estimated that 300 Correction Department employees would retire when more than 800 are eligible.
The second largest item is an $18.8 million shortfall for magnet schools.
Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes last week acknowledged a magnet school deficit of $17.7 million as a result of “unbudgeted legislation requiring the state to pick up preschool tuition costs, and also due to supplemental transportation costs for the Sheff settlement.”
However, it’s nothing the administration can’t handle.
“In contrast to previous administrations, Governor Malloy has shown that he can manage to the bottom line,” Andrew Doba, Malloy’s spokesman, said Monday. “That’s why we’ve held growth to less than 2.8 percent over the course of his term.”
He said the Republicans “will say anything to score cheap political points. If they were serious about managing the state’s finances, they would put forward a budget. But we all know they aren’t going to do that.”
Doba said the bottom line is: “the governor’s budget proposal is balanced. If it were passed today, we would live within it.”
But Republican lawmakers are not convinced.
“The governor had a fiduciary responsibility to present the legislature and the people of Connecticut with a balanced budget and he failed to meet that responsibility. What’s worse is that the omitted expenditures look intentional,” McKinney said.
The legislature’s Democrat-controlled Appropriations Committee is expected to release its budget proposal later this week.
But Republican lawmakers say it’s only going to make the situation worse because it looks to increase spending.
McKinney and Cafero said that subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee have recommended an additional $60 million in spending for 2015, meaning the governor and the legislature have a $130 million hole to plug in their current proposals.
Democratic lawmakers were critical of former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell back in 2009 when she fell about $2 billion short of closing the deficit projected by the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis. Rell eventually went back and revised her budget proposal to close the larger deficit.
“Governor Malloy is too smart not to account for expenditure needs that his department heads made him aware of in advance of his state of the state address. He owes taxpayers an explanation,” McKinney said.
Sen. Beth Bye, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said they’re taking the budget one line at a time and “doing our best to come in balanced and under the cap.”