With layoffs come cuts to job, economic development programs

In addition to cutting funding for more than 6,500 state jobs, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s new plan to balance the state budget also slices more than $25 million from over two dozen job training, economic development and tourism programs over this fiscal year and next.

“As everyone knows, this was not the path we chose, but at this juncture, it is the only path we can take,” Malloy wrote Friday in a statement issued jointly with Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman. “Connecticut is in the midst of the worst fiscal crisis it’s faced in many, many years.”

But while thousands of state workers could be out of a job by Sept. 1, according to administration officials, many of the programs that help create new ones, or prepare workers to find employment, already will have been cut.

At the Labor Department, the administration ordered cuts to four worker training programs, a career search networking service and two positions in the apprenticeship program.

The state’s Opportunity Industrial Centers, which coordinate job preparation services to individuals with significant barriers to employment, as well as two job re-entry programs for ex-offenders also were cut.

These Labor Department cuts totaled $2.7 million over two fiscal years, but the administration made even deeper cuts in tourism promotion and other economic development efforts.

Malloy repeatedly chastised M. Jodi Rell’s administration during last fall’s campaign for not investing more in a tourism industry that, according to the U.S. Travel Association, generates $9.3 billion in annual economic activity and $1.4 billion in tax revenue for Connecticut.

The governor pledged to restore the statewide tourism marketing account to the $15 million annual level it enjoyed previously. But the plan offered to lawmakers Friday whittled the $15 million budgeted both for this fiscal year and next down to $10 million and $13.5 million,respectively.

Malloy’s budget director, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, said that the cut won’t severely hinder tourism promotions. Because the program had been gutted in the last budget, it would take a few months to get full promotions up and running this fiscal year, and Barnes said that $10 million was all tourism officials could realistically expect to spend before the new fiscal year ends next June 30.

“It’s not as much as we would like to spend, but it’s still significantly more than last year,” added Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s senior campaign adviser.

Still, the administration did pull back tourism and other economic development spending in a number of other areas as well.

About $4 million this year and $8.1 million next year was cut in total from promotion budgets for 20 separate tourism attractions and four regional tourism districts.

The governor also looked to save $782,349 next year by cutting general tourism, art and cultural grant programs.

Also on the chopping block were a two business incubator programs, assistance for fuel cell development and high-tech manufacturing in Connecticut’s defense industry, a grant program to help revitalize downtown districts, and a small business marketing assistance initiative.

“I don’t think the governor had many options, but I am concerned about these cuts,” said Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford, co-chairman of the Commerce Committee and one of the legislature’s most vocal advocates for greater investment in cutting-edge technologies.

These reductions, coupled with more than $120 million in cuts across this fiscal year and next to the state’s public colleges and universities, have to be addressed in the not-too-distant future if Connecticut is to expand its economic recovery, LeBeau said.

“We have to look to our future and I would hope these are going to be priorities,” the East Hartford lawmaker added. “This really points to the need for (state employee unions) to get their act together and approval a concession deal.”

“We know there are legislators of both parties who will find many things in this plan they don’t like,” Malloy and Wyman added in their statement. “To reiterate: we don’t like most of what’s in here, either. But we would remind everyone that if the legislature would like to remove a cut we’ve made from the budget, they have to replace it with another cut of the same value, and there aren’t a lot of good options out there.