Study: CT spending for children in steady decline

Ben Barnes, who oversees state budget, tells social service advocates not to expect major new funding.

The CT Mirror

Ben Barnes, who oversees the state budget, tells social service advocates not to expect major new funding.

Over more than two decades, Connecticut’s spending on children has shrunk by $1.8 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars as debt, pension obligations and health care consumed an ever-increasing share of the state budget, according to a study released Friday.

The so-called “children’s budget” computed by Connecticut Voices for Children has dropped from 40 percent to 30 percent of the state budget since Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. enacted his budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, 1991.

On a day when the legislative leadership also held a press conference publicizing initiatives directed at older residents, advocates gathered on the other side of the State Capitol to talk about redirecting resources to the young.

The decline in spending on children as a percentage of the budget has been steady across 22 budgets, in good times and bad, through administrations of an independent governor, two Republicans and a Democrat.

Wade Gibson, the director of the fiscal policy center at Connecticut Voices for Children, outlined the report to an audience of more than 80 people, including Ben Barnes, who has been the state budget chief since Gov. Dannel P. Malloy took office in January 2011.

“If nothing else, you’ve depressed me, totally,” Barnes said.

But Barnes told the advocates the trend should surprise no one who has monitored the cost of health care, which drives up state spending on its employees, retirees and recipients of Medicaid.

Repeated reports, most recently by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, have identified “rising health costs as a primary driver of decreasing state fiscal stability over the next several decades,” the Voices study said.

As Gibson had previously noted, the Malloy administration has negotiated a concession agreement projected to lower long-term health costs, Barnes said.

Barnes said every national meeting of state budget officers never gets past one topic: rising Medicaid costs.

Malloy this week struck a cautious approach to a projected surplus of $506 million, using $155 million for tax refunds and the rest for cash reserves and to reduced the unfunded pension obligation.

Barnes said that about $140 million of the surplus was due to a one-time windfall from a tax amnesty program, so the administration was not yet ready to commit a surplus to higher, recurring expenses.

Malloy, who did not address the group, said later that he has invested in early childhood programs and raised education aid for municipalities every year, including filling a $270 million gap created by his predecessor, M. Jodi Rell, using non-recurring federal stimulus funds for education in her last budget.

“I got handed a bowl of cold soup, and now everyone is complaining that it’s not as warm as they would like it,” Malloy said. “We’re warming it up, folks.”

About Mark Pazniokas

Mark, a winner of numerous journalist awards, is the former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and a former contributing writer for The New York Times. In more than 30 years as a reporter, he has covered some of the most compelling stories in the state, including the impeachment inquiry and resignation of Gov. John G. Rowland in 2004 and the nationally watched Senate race won by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman as an independent in 2006. Mark is a graduate of Boston University. E-mail him at mpazniokas@ctmirror.org.

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