Malloy signs CT budget but trims town aid to offset prison costs

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

CTMirror file photo

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy talks with reporters Thursday about the budget and his bail reform package.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy showed legislators Thursday there was a fiscal price to be paid for rejecting his bail reform and other anti-recidivism proposals.

The governor signed the legislature’s $19.76 billion budget for 2016-17 into law, but only after using the rarely employed line-item veto to cancel more than $22 million earmarked for municipalities, health clinics and the Connecticut Humanities Council.

This was done largely to offset savings that otherwise would have been achieved, according to Malloy, by enacting his Second Chance Society initiative.

“We have a line item veto in Connecticut,” Malloy said. “I actually crossed out lines. I actually put my initials next to them. And we believe we are executing our responsibilities in accordance with state law.”

Article XXVIII of the amendments to the state Constitution mandates a balanced budget. And over the past several weeks, the governor and others in his administration have said the new budget assumed $15 million in savings tied to Second Chance initiatives.

But while the administration held to that estimate, the adopted budget doesn’t tie savings — directly — to Second Chance.

It does assume $15.8 million in savings related to the closure of one prison, according to the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis.

It also cut $34.8 million from the general operations of the Department of Correction.

The governor argued that without his anti-recidivism program, though, the assumed savings in the new plan needed to be reduced.

Connecticut’s jails hold 350 offenders daily who are charged “only with misdemeanors that do not involve failure to appear or family violence charges, who do not otherwise pose a risk to the public,” but are too poor to post bond, Malloy wrote in his letter to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill notifying her both of his line-item vetoes and his signature of the budget bill.

“And because of (the) General Assembly’s inaction on this legislative change, these defendants will continue to spend unnecessary weeks in jail, severely limiting their ability to gain future employment and housing, thereby increasing the risk that they will re-offend — and costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars per day.”

Malloy also wrote another enacted measure mandating health insurance coverage for 3-D imaging breast cancer screenings also would add costs to state government not reflected in the budget.

To offset correction and health care costs, the governor canceled $775,000 in payments to federally qualified health centers and $1.7 million for the Connecticut Humanities Council.

But his chief offsetting move involved an undefined cut in municipal aid to be imposed after the fiscal year begins.

That cut had been included in a preliminary budget for 2016-17 enacted last year, but language nullifying that savings requirement was added in the new 2016-17 budget sent to the governor two weeks ago.

The governor’s line-item veto canceled that nullifying language, effectively restoring the cut.

Malloy praised the overall budget, saying, “I think it brings Connecticut’s budget into alignment with what is apparently our new economic reality in a slow-growth United States, where growth rates are not what we have become used to. I’m proud of the budget. It’s been a hard process to get to this point.”

The new plan closed a nearly $1 billion deficit in 2016-17 finances and significantly reduced larger projected shortfalls in each of the following two fiscal years.

The budget avoids tax hikes and does not tap the state’s modest emergency reserve.

Even before Malloy’s line-item veto, the plan scaled back promised increases in municipal aid and transportation by $125 million and $50 million, respectively, while cutting funds for state employees’ salaries beyond the savings expected from the current round of worker layoffs.

Hospitals, nursing homes and community-based social services all face cuts, though the reductions aren’t as deep as those proposed earlier.

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