GOP offers a no-tax alternative to Malloy’s budget

The legislature’s Republican minority offered a no-tax alternative to Gov. Dannel Malloy’s budget today in which the goodies are obvious and served in big portions, but most of the bitter medicine comes in smaller doses spread throughout their spending plan.

The GOP says its plan would eliminate the state’s projected $3.2 billion deficit without a penny of the $1.5 billion in tax increases that were proposed by Malloy and are about to be endorsed by Democrats. Like Malloy, they would refrain from cutting aid to municipalities.

GOP alternative

John McKinney (l), Lawrence Cafero (r) outline GOP alternative.

“Before you rush to judgment, before you say there’s only one way, give it a look, because we’ve proven there’s another way,” said House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr. of Norwalk.

Cafero and Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney of Fairfield, flanked by most of the Republican caucus members, said they were presenting their alternative prior to the Appropriations and Finance committees voting this week on Malloy’s budget.

Their proposal relies on Malloy to successfully extract $1 billion in labor savings from state employees in each of the next two years, but they would be more aggressive in consolidating agencies and cutting the workforce by about 2,700 jobs, including 1,380 managerial positions.

“There has been no sacrifice from government,” McKinney said.

The Republicans say their budget is full of “tough medicine,” but they had trouble identifying specific cuts that would hit the broadest swaths of the population or prompt the loudest outcry.

“Everything is relative,” Cafero said.

McKinney said their proposed elimination of legislative commissions, such as the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, would cause people in the Capitol to “howl,” but the public’s reaction is likely to be, “Why did you have them in the first place?”

To be sure, there is pain spread through their budget alternative, which cuts spending on education, criminal justice, prisons, child protection, health and welfare.

“When you say where’s the hurt, there are going to be many programs that we’ve offered in the past as a state that we can no longer afford and won’t be there,” Cafero said.

The Republicans’ biggest cuts would come from Medicaid, including $382 million next year and $465 million the following year, forcing cuts in dental and vision care. But they say $224 million of those savings would come from eliminating fraud, not loss of services.

Malloy’s staff says their plan relies on $500 million in unidentified savings, and House and Senate Democratic leaders say the projected Medicaid fraud savings appear “wildly inflated.”

“The governor appreciates the time and effort the Republicans put into this document, and appreciates them agreeing that he can achieve $2 billion in savings with state employees,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor’s senior advisor. “But with all due respect, this budget is not balanced, it relies on fiscal gimmicks, hurts job growth, cuts important funding in education, shreds the safety net, and fundamentally undermines clean elections in our state.”

The GOP would eliminate the public financing of campaigns, a reform adopted by the legislature over Republican objections in 2005 after Gov. John G. Rowland resigned in the face of an impeachment inquiry and federal corruption investigation.

They maintain education aid to municipalities, but slash tens of millions from a wide range of other education programs, including magnet schools.

Despite the state falling short of complying with a looming court-ordered deadline to reduce the racial isolation of Hartford’s largely black and Hispanic school population, Republican lawmakers proposed providing no additional resources to help the state meet the requirements of the Sheff v. O’Neill case.

The state must find an additional 3,500 seats in an integrated magnet, charter, technical, agricultural or suburban school by October 2012. Education leaders and advocates both agree the state will not meet that deadline if the state’s approach remains the same.

The alternative is heading back to court next fall and the courts deciding what needs to happen.

Martha Stone, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the Republican approach would likely lead the state back to court.

“This would set compliance back by years,” she said.

Cafero said Republicans support school choice options but the huge deficit facing the state makes it impossible to provide any additional funding.

“We hope we can be creative with the money they have,” he said. “We cannot afford it.”

Malloy did propose increasing funding for the state’s School Choice Program by $12 million over the next two fiscal years, which would allow reimbursement levels to increase for suburban districts accepting Hartford students. That initiative was expected to provide an addition 700 students with an integrated education.

Like Malloy, the Republicans said their budget maintains the social safety net. Cafero promised no one would go without food, shelter or medical care. But nearly every program takes a nip here, a cut there.  Others disappear.

Tax relief for elderly renters would be cut by $2.16 million next year and $5.16 million the following year, a cut of more than 17 percent in the second year.

A $2.4 million minority advancement program disappears from the Department of Higher Education, as does $471,374 for a minority teacher incentive program.

Regional planning agencies would lose 75 percent of their funding, dropping from $800,000 to $200,000.

Witness protection? Malloy already proposed cutting the budget from $338,247 to $220,000. The GOP would scale it back again, to $176,000.

Malloy cuts training in half for the division of criminal justice to $70,000. The GOP halves it again to $35,000.

Stress reduction for the Department of Public Safety gets eliminated, a savings of $23,354.

Funding is cut sharply for legal and medical services for prisoners.

The Republicans would fund a new state police class, but they will have to get by with older wheels. Where Malloy cut the budget for state police cars by $2.2 million to $7 million, the GOP wipes it out.

Mosquito control is cut in half to $142,500.

Culture, arts and tourism take a big hit. The Connecticut Humanities Council loses its entire $1.6 million budget. Subsidies for institutions ranging from the Mark Twain House in Hartford to the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport to the Palace Theater in Waterbury disappear.

A needle and syringe exchange program, which health-care professionals say reduces the transmission of AIDS among drug addicts, would be eliminated.