Gov. Dannel P. Malloy didn’t give any ground Monday when asked about Democratic criticism of his mid-September emergency budget cuts.
Democratic lawmakers have blasted Malloy’s decision to reduce Medicaid payments to hospitals and funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment, homeless shelters, and residential and day supports for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“I think it’s time that we sit together with the governor and talk about what’s appropriate to be cut here,” Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden, said last week. “These rescissions are not appropriate and many of my colleagues are saying the same thing.”
Democratic lawmakers are still compiling a list of alternative budget cuts. Meanwhile, at least one Democratic lawmaker, Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, has proposed looking at state employee furloughs as a way to find money to help some of the state’s neediest residents.
But Malloy wasn’t about to disclose whether he will ask state employee unions for furloughs, which are unpaid days off, when he sits down with unions to negotiate their salaries.
“I’m not going to negotiate through you,” Malloy told reporters Monday. “. . . We’ll be looking at making Connecticut more sustainable, as we have attempted to do with other efforts.
Malloy repeated remarks he made last week that he’s willing to have “serious conversations with anybody who is serious about having conversations.”
Those “serious” conversations between Malloy and Democratic legislative leaders have yet to take place.
Last week, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey and House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, asked the governor to release the overdue first quarter payments to the hospitals. The hospitals are given back a portion of the tax they pay to the state three times a year. That pool of money is separate from the Medicaid money Malloy cut on Sept. 18.
“This is an obligation of the state, and it is not an option to not pay our bills for services our hospitals have already provided. Having already cut future commitments to hospitals . . . holding back these funds makes a bad situation worse,” Sharkey and Aresimowicz said in a statement.
The reduction in funding for hospitals could be 25 percent higher if the first quarter payments are not made.
Asked about the reasoning behind withholding the payment, Gian-Carl Casa, undersecretary for legislative affairs at the Office of Policy and Management, said, “We have made clear publicly and privately for over a month that we have been open to their alternative ideas. We look look forward to eventually seeing them, because we continue to wait for them.”
It’s unclear when Democratic leadership will share their alternative budget cuts with Malloy.
What is clear is that it’s having an impact on the hospital industry.
Hartford Healthcare announced Monday that it has ended negotiations on a strategic partnership with Day Kimball Healthcare.
“Given the magnitude of the state’s cuts, it would be imprudent for us to consider moving forward with such a partnership at this time,” James Blazar, Hartford HealthCare’s senior vice president and chief strategy transformation officer, said. “This reckless slashing of Medicaid funding makes it difficult for HHC to create a path forward with Day Kimball Healthcare right now. Both our organizations have just taken a gut punch.”
Malloy reiterated his position that the hospitals in the state are doing fine without the state’s help.
“What we need to do is look at where we can save money and where we can’t and do the best we can,” Malloy said.
Three of the 29 acute care hospitals in Connecticut lost money last year and Malloy said he thinks that’s a situation that needs to be addressed. But he doesn’t think the state should have to give money to the hospitals that are making the lion’s share of $916 million in total profits.
“I’m trying, I suppose, to find the right balance, and we’ll work with everybody on it,” Malloy said.
Last week, Democratic lawmakers suggested Malloy should scale back his 30-year commitment to transportation in order to help fund the $16 million cut to social services. But Malloy quickly dismissed the idea.
He said there’s plenty of money in the budget for those services. He said the state devotes a larger portion of its budget to social services than other states. And if the legislature wants to give him the authority to cut other places in the budget, then he would be happy to have that authority.
However, he’s not touching his transportation initiative.
“The most business-friendly legislation the House and the Senate could be engaged in right now would be to pass a constitutional lockbox and get it on the ballot next November and forever deal with this issue, so that no one could ever divert any income raised specifically to support transportation,” Malloy said.
He said he wants to make sure that some governor in the future doesn’t start diverting money dedicated for transportation and the fastest way to do that is to approve a constitutional lockbox. The legislature passed a statutory lockbox earlier this year with the acknowledgement that it contains loopholes.
“Connecticut underinvested in transportation for 40 years,” Malloy said. “It’s why we’re in the mess we’re in.”