The House and Senate are planning to erase $350 million from Connecticut’s 2016 budget Tuesday even though documents that show exactly how they plan to do it haven’t been finalized yet.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said they plan to cut about $350 million from 2016 and $212.3 million from 2017. But they’re also trying to solve some of the state’s long-term fiscal challenges.
“We are trying to engage in something that will provide for some structural changes,” Looney said Monday outside the Senate chamber.
Looney said they will be setting up a commission to study the constitutional spending cap, which Attorney General George Jepsen opined last month has “no legal effect.” Voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional spending cap in 1992, but lawmakers never voted to fully implement it.
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, refused to confirm that the spending cap was a sticking point in bipartisan budget negotiations, which ended last week when they couldn’t reach a deal on some of the “long-term structural” changes urged by Republicans.
Fasano said he’ll be more than happy to talk about where their differences were on Tuesday when the legislation is debated.
Part of the deficit mitigation plan lawmakers will debate Tuesday will include steps toward closing the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, which is a locked facility for juveniles run by the Department of Children and Families in Middletown.
The Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance and other groups have called for closing the facility following the release this summer of two reports. One report by Child Advocate Sarah Eagan found that CJTS staff had used physical restraint 532 times and mechanical restraint 134 times over a 12-month period.
“Everyone believes CJTS is and has been not the best approach to dealing with juvenile offenders,” Looney said Monday. “That needs to be resolved.”
Fasano said Republicans proposed closing CJTS in December 2016. “We wanted a date certain that it would close,” Fasano said.
It costs $543,000 per child, per year to operate CJTS. Fasano said he believes children get better care in a secure community setting. Looney agreed, but said the transition for some of these children to the community will take time.
It’s unclear if the yet-to-be written deficit mitigation plan includes such a date.
As far as the rest of the deficit mitigation plan is concerned, it looks as if lawmakers were able to find $72.75 million in spending cuts in 2016 and will restore $30 million of the $63 million cut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made to hospitals in September. Draft budget mitigation documents also ask Malloy to find an additional $93 million in savings.
Looney said most of Malloy’s proposed cuts to the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the Department of Developmental Services in September will also be restored.
“We believe many things were nicked rather than cut deeply in this package,” Looney said. “So we have many more accounts reduced by small amounts where we think the impact will not be any way painful or crippling.”
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said the business tax changes and a resolution that creates a lockbox for special transportation funds will go a long way to restoring business confidence in Connecticut.
In a visit to the press room on Monday evening, Fasano said he hasn’t seen the language yet for the constitutional lockbox, but in theory supports it.
He said it depends on when the money is considered to actually be in the lockbox that matters. Will only the amount certified at the end of the fiscal year be the amount that lawmakers can’t touch? No one knows at the moment.
Fasano said he wants to see the language before he commits to voting for the lockbox. Lawmakers have to pass a constitutional amendment with a three-quarters majority to get it on the ballot in November 2016.
A spokesman from Gov. P. Malloy’s office was unable to confirm a budget deal Monday evening. However, Looney said he believes there’s “substantial agreement” on just about everything.
He said the document lawmakers will be asked to vote on will be finalized Tuesday morning.