Nonpartisan legislative analysts estimated Wednesday that the 2015 budget deficit is even worse than what Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration projected last week.
The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated that the state was on track to end the fiscal year with a $191 million deficit. That’s $52.8 million more than Malloy’s budget office projected just five days ago on March 20.
If state Comptroller Kevin Lembo agrees with OFA’s projections next month, then it could be enough to trigger a deficit mitigation. If the deficit reaches 1 percent of the General Fund, then the governor has to submit a deficit mitigation plan to the legislature. The trigger for the 2015 budget is about $175 million.
Until Lembo certifies a deficit of that size, Malloy has the authority to unilaterally rescind up to 5 percent of any line item and 3 percent of any fund without seeking legislative approval.
The governor already has had two rounds of rescissions and budget director Ben Barnes told state agency heads Wednesday to brace for a possible third round.
“Please also be aware that OPM analysts will review expenditure patterns between now and fiscal year-end to identify opportunities for agency savings,” Barnes wrote. “Additional rescissions may also be necessary in the coming weeks.”
Republican lawmakers have objected to the way the governor has nibbled away at the deficit through these rescissions. They have been asking Malloy to let them help identify spending cuts that go beyond his current authority, but Malloy has largely ignored them.
The public battle over the 2015 deficit reached a climax in January during a well-publicized lunch meeting between House Minority Leader Themis Klarides and the governor. Klarides and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano had been asking for a meeting with Malloy to discuss their ideas about where to cut the budget. Malloy said he was willing to listen to their suggestions, but the public spectacle didn’t result in any solutions.
The budget back-and-forth may soon be moot since the earliest a deficit mitigation could be submitted would be May. With the session ending June 3, it’s likely lawmakers and the administration will handle what’s left of the 2015 deficit when they negotiate the 2016-2017 budget.
Republicans have been quick to point out that Malloy has been unsuccessful at erasing the 2015 deficit, which emerged shortly after he was elected to a second term.
“It certainly seems coincidental that for months and months during an election cycle we were supposedly going forward economically and things were looking up and we weren’t going to have a deficit, and then within less than a few weeks after the election all of a sudden a deficit pops up,” Klarides has said. “How did you not see it coming?”