HARTFORD, CT — It look less than five minutes for the Connecticut General Assembly to announce Friday that it will return next week to find $54 million to restore funding for the Medicare Savings Program.
A handful of lawmakers gathered in the House and the Senate Friday to essentially agree to return next week to deal with the situation.
The program changes adopted as part of the budget signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Oct. 31 would have reduced or eliminated benefits for more than 113,000 elderly and disabled in the state.
The House has agreed to return on Thursday, Jan. 4 to address the issue and the Senate is expected to return either Jan. 4 or Jan. 5.
The short session comes a day after Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes scolded lawmakers for proposing what he speculated could be imaginary savings.
He said he has no specific details of how they plan to close the $54 million gap created by restoring the benefits “there are indications that the legislature will try to close the gap with additional lapses in overtime and in ‘Other Expenses’, the budget line item in each agency that is used for a variety of non-personnel activities including IT, professional services, supplies, vehicles, property maintenance and leasing, and direct program costs.”
Barnes warned that the “replacement cuts or revenue increases” have to be real in order to avoid putting the state further into deficit.
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, who wasn’t at the Capitol Friday, said Barnes’ memo is “a lot of words from someone who is desperately trying to be relevant.”
He said the speculations Barnes made in the memo about the savings are false.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the memo from Barnes was “pegged to a prior approach we had contemplated.”
He said that proposal was based on more overtime and “OE” which is short for operating expenses.
“Neither of those are a significant part of the new configuration that we are working on,” Looney said.
He said he couldn’t share where they would find the $54 million in savings because they still had to go over them with their members. They have also refused to share the proposal with Barnes.
“That $15 million in overtime that we had planned in that original proposal is not part of what we’re contemplating now,” Looney said. “The $29 million in OE that we contemplated is also not part of the plan. I think we’re looking at $10 million.”
In a statement Thursday, Malloy urged the legislature to also address the yawning budget deficit, which his administration believes has grown to $225 million.
“If the legislature is convening a special session, they should take this opportunity to address the full deficit facing the state,” Malloy said.
However, lawmakers said they’re not interested in tackling the budget deficit until after the Jan. 15 consensus revenue estimates are released.
Looney said they want to see the sales tax receipts from the Christmas shopping season before they make and final decisions. He maintained that the legislature would address the budget deficit in a bipartisan manner as soon as they have better information.
“After January 15 I think we’ll be aggressively engaged in good faith negotiations,” Looney said.
Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, said there’s a commitment from all the leaders to come back and deal with a deficit mitigation plan. He said they just have to get the Medicare Savings Program restored first before they move on to tackling the budget deficit.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz has reached out to Barnes and invited him to join in the conversation about deficit mitigation.