When the General Assembly approved cutting about $350 million from the state budget, they also agreed to allow Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget office to find an additional $93 million in savings.
Two days before the end of the year, Secretary of Policy and Management Ben Barnes, identified those potential $93 million in savings in a memo to state agency heads.
“Executive branch agencies are expected to adjust spending in order to operate within the levels of funding available after holdbacks,” Barnes noted. “. . . Because similar savings targets will apply next fiscal year, decisions to defer or delay spending should be minimized in favor of decisions to reduce activities and achieve structural spending reductions.”
The holdbacks identified by Barnes include cuts to municipal aid, mental health care, services for the developmentally and intellectually disabled, and Medicaid patients.
Sen. Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, was quick to criticize the holdbacks.
“The funding that is being cut to mental health care, substance abuse treatment, and Medicaid patients is certainly money that could have and would have been spent to help some of the most vulnerable people in our state,” Fasano said. “This is not extra money lying around not being used, it’s money being pulled directly out of already strained budgets.”
The document identifies a $4.1 million reduction to the Department of Developmental Services, a $24.6 million reduction from the Medicaid account, and reductions of about $5.2 million to municipal aid.
Barnes explained that this money is being identified and won’t be spent by state agencies.
“The small holdbacks that Sen. Fasano decries in his recent press release were part of an agreement that he negotiated before he abandoned the budget process earlier this month,” Barnes said. “I hope that in the new year Senator Fasano will resolve to support tough decisions he helps to make. My resolution will be to work with anyone who is willing to support real solutions to our challenges.”
Fasano said he was open to giving the governor authority “to make certain reductions.” However, he said Republicans “also proposed limiting the areas where his cuts could be made to preserve funding for the neediest. We were prepared to work together to identify the least harmful cuts possible.”
However, Republicans left those negotiations when they felt about a dozen of their issues weren’t being addressed.
“Ultimately, these are dollars that agencies will not spend by the end of the year, so they are cost savings we already expect to achieve,” Devon Puglia, Malloy’s spokesman, said last week in an emailed statement. “What’s extraordinary here, however, is that Sen. Fasano proposed to give the governor hold-back authority without specifying reductions himself — because the biggest specific idea the GOP could come up with was a proposal to decimate our long-term pension system. This is the antithesis of leadership — it truly embodies irresponsibility.”
The deficit mitigation plan approved on Dec. 8 also included another $72 million in spending cuts in 2016. The spending cuts were spread out among the various state agencies.