Malloy has plenty of new ideas, not enough dollars

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s transition team presented more than 1,800 pages worth of policy recommendations Monday, including sweeping proposals to overhaul education funding, institute universal pre-kindergarten, find new transportation revenues and end the regional tourism district system.

And while Malloy thanked his team’s Policy Committee for developing a report that offers guidance his administration will use over the next four years, he reminded members that these goals–though valuable–will be limited by a $3.7 billion budget deficit looming less than six months away.

“It is a new day for the state and for our people,” Malloy said. “Sacrifices will be made but strong partnerships will be built.”

Malloy transition meeting

Malloy listens to members from his transition policy team

The committee, composed of officials from both state and municipal government as well as private-sector representatives from numerous fields, developed more than 150 policy papers on such topics as economic development, education, energy, the environment, health care, housing, public safety social services and transportation.

One of the strongest conclusions reached by the panel was that Connecticut’s chief funding mechanism for public education is “broken.”

“The school financing system doesn’t work… The whole funding formula should be revamped,” said Cameron C. Staples, a former state legislator who co-chaired the General Assembly’s Education Committee.

The state’s formula for funding education – known as Education Cost Sharing – is based on a town’s wealth and aims to drive more state support to those communities with more need.

Malloy said following the 90-minute meeting that he agrees funding for schools needs to be reorganized, adding this cannot be fixed entirely in the short-term.

He said his immediate goal is to maintain current education funding levels. For the current fiscal year, the state gave towns $1.9 billion for education, of which $271 million was from one-time federal stimulus money.

“We will be recommending to the legislature that they broaden the tax base for local communities. Some of this has to be entertained at the community level. Some of these communities have to look themselves in the mirror and re-prioritize some of their expenditures,” Malloy said. “I will do all within my power to hold communities harmless or relatively harmless.”


Cam Staples and Dudley Williams: School funding formula is ‘broken’

Other education-related recommendations include offering universal access to pre-school and creating two new high-level positions. The panel proposed creating a commissioner of early childhood education and a secretary of education. The latter would oversee all things education from birth to higher education and report directly to Malloy.

With Connecticut still struggling with about 9 percent unemployment, the committee also gave high priority to economic development, arguing that the best chance for growth starts with Malloy himself.

“The visible engagement of the governor–meeting with companies large and small, asking ‘what will it take for your company to grow jobs in Connecticut’ … was repeatedly stressed” by those the committee interviewed, Joseph McGee, a former state economic development commissioner in the early 1990s and co-chairman of the policy committee, said.

The panel also called for the phasing out of the regional tourism districts and a new focus on statewide tourism promotions. “The reality is we have a very modest budget and Connecticut is not a very big state,” Liberty Bank President Chandler Howard, who led the committee’s economic development policy efforts, said, adding a tourism steering panel still could include representatives from the state’s various regions.

Malloy campaigned repeatedly on a pledge not to shred the state’s health care and social services for the poor and disabled.


Toni Fatone talks about recommendations for health care

The health care recommendations, presented by Dr. Tory Westbrook, focused on federal and state-level reform efforts, redesigning the health care system to pay more for primary care and less for specialty care, emphasizing prevention and wellness, and creating health care jobs.

Numerous proposals were tied to the state’s $4 billion Medicaid program.

One recommendation involved moving HUSKY, the state’s main health insurance program for poor families, out of a managed-care system. One option would be to expand the state’s primary care case management pilot. This program is attractive to health care advocates because doctors, not insurance companies, are paid to coordinate patients’ care.

Toni Fatone, a committee member and former head of the state’s largest association of nursing homes, which absorbs 7 percent of the state’s budget while treating less than 1 percent of the population, must be required to develop market-driven business plans.

Fatone also said Connecticut should expand its use of provider taxes on social services.

Connecticut, like most states, levies a provider tax on nursing home care, which it in turn spends on the industry–an arrangement that enabled it to qualify for more federal Medicaid reimbursement. Though Fatone did not recommend specific areas to expand the provider tax system into, other states levy such taxes on hospital care, nonprofit agency social services, health clinics and even managed-care insurance plans.

The group also recommended pursuing federal funding for home and community-based services and creating an Alzheimer’s work group to plan for what Fatone called “unprecedented demands” for medical services in the future.

Other key recommendations of the committee include:

  • Pursuing new sources of transportation funding – particularly federal aid – while dedicating more existing state fuel taxes for transportation purposes. Though tolls weren’t mentioned specifically, Malloy said they would get a careful analysis by his administration. The governor added, though that “I would never sign a toll bill that didn’t lock-box the revenue seven ways to Sunday” to ensure it only could be used for transportation projects.
  • Modernizing a Department of Public Utility Control that was established before the electricity-generation market was deregulated a decade ago, and begin planning to replace Connecticut’s power plants, over half of which are more than 35 years old.