Republican lawmakers called upon Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Friday to convene a special legislative session to address a shortfall in the state budget, which Republicans believe is larger than the administration has acknowledged.
Incoming Republican leaders Rep. Themis Klarides and Sen. Len Fasano sent a letter to Malloy’s office Friday afternoon during a joint hearing of the Appropriations and Finance Committees, where fiscal analysts from two agencies were briefing lawmakers.
“Based on reports by the Office of Fiscal Analysis, we believe the actual deficit may be much greater than what has been reported by the Office of Policy and Management. Our calculations find the deficit to be surpassing the 1 percent threshold that would trigger deficit mitigation,” the two Republicans wrote.
The Malloy administration has placed the budget deficit at $99.5 million, about $10.4 million more than the Office of Fiscal Analysis has estimated. But the Republican lawmakers contend the deficit could be twice as large, and could surpass the $175 million threshold that would require legislative action.
The governor has the authority to make some budget rescissions without approval from the legislature if the budget shortfall is smaller than 1 percent of the total budget. Friday’s letter comes on the heels of a package of cuts released Thursday by the Malloy administration.
In a short statement, Malloy’s spokesman Andrew Doba said a special session would not be necessary.
“There is no need for a special session. The rescissions that were announced yesterday, in addition to the management measures that were announced more than a week ago, are more than sufficient to address this minor shortfall,” he said.
Klarides said she did not believe the administration’s estimates.
“We’re still putting our head in the sand and saying there’s no problem. That’s what we heard for six months during this election — there’s no problem, we’re in a healthy situation, we’re moving forward — and, what? within 10 days of the election all of the sudden . . . there’s a deficit,” she said.
During Friday’s hearing lawmakers reacted with skepticism to some of the cuts already ordered by the governor. The $54.6 million in rescissions will have a heavy impact on the state’s social services agencies, as well its higher education institutions.
The Children and Families Department took the largest line item cut to its board and care residential program. It’s budget will be reduced by around $6.3 million.
Office and Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes was out sick Friday, so Karen Buffkin, Malloy’s deputy budget director, filled in during the hearing. Based on the first quarter of the budget, Buffkin said the administration did not expect the program to need all of its funding.
“To date, the number of people who require those services . . . has not kept pace with projections so there is an ability to reduce that budget without affecting services to those who need the services for board and care,” she said.
Both of the Appropriations Committee chairwomen expressed skepticism about the cut. Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, said the reductions could cause increases in costs where the administration did not anticipate it, like emergency room visits by children.
“I just want to make sure that we are really looking at this sincerely to make sure that these consequences don’t end up somewhere else or end with an even more tragic situation,” she said.
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said the occupancy rate at the DCF’s board and care facility has dropped from 80 percent to 50 percent since April because of changes by the administration. She said department policies have discouraged children from being placed in the facilities.
“We all want people with their families — if not, with foster families — nobody disagrees with that. But what I’m worried about is we’re going to close these small temporary group homes to save money and then realize it all went too fast,” she said. “I continue to be concerned about the pace of non-use of temporary beds and the cutting the budget without putting it into the services that are supposed to be supporting kids.”