State residents could be charged a new $10 vehicle registration fee every two years to support state parks. Connecticut prisons could incarcerate 1,100 fewer people, mosquito and tick management programs could be scaled back, and state funding of tax breaks for elderly property owners and renters could be reduced.
These are just a few of the budget options state agencies have offered the governor’s budget office as it prepares a 2017-18 state budget to put before legislators. The budget office has told state agencies that 10 percent cuts in discretionary spending are “likely” as the state grapples with a projected deficit that tops $1 billion for the 2017-18 fiscal year.
So far, the state Office of Policy and Management (OPM) has made public proposals from 20 state agencies for what a 10 percent discretionary cut might look like.
A theme in all of the proposals is reliance on further reductions in state employees, either through layoffs or leaving positions vacant as people retire or leave. This fiscal year, the state has laid off 1,550 state employees and has left hundreds of positions empty.
The proposals from state agencies were due to the budget office Oct. 7, but OPM has so far released only 20 despite freedom-of-information requests from The Mirror for all of them when they were filed. Among the 41 agencies whose proposals are not yet public are some of the state government’s largest, including the departments of Children and Families, Social Services and Developmental Services.
OPM spokesman Chris McClure said the agency submissions are in a “deliberative review process” and not subject to public disclosure until they are reviewed for accuracy and to ensure they do not disclose personal information. In past years, however, the agency has released them promptly after receipt.
Here are some of the proposed cuts – and some revenue options to offset them – in proposals that have been released:
- A new mandatory $10 fee would be assessed when residents register their vehicles and campers every two years. The fee would generate $28.7 million in revenue to blunt the impact of recent and looming cuts to state beaches, parks and campsites. State residents would no longer have to pay to entry or parking fees, however, leaving the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection with a net gain of $14.3 million. (Read more about previous cuts here.)
- Lowering the prison population from 15,000 to 13,900 inmates – a 7.3 percent decrease – would save $13.4 million through staffing reductions, closing one unnamed prison entirely, and shutting a handful of units at others.
- The Department of Correction also is proposing ending its contract with UConn Health for staff that arrange mental health and other services for those leaving prison and would move that responsibility in-house. It also is proposing to save $8.5 million by “modifying programs and services that do not directly relate to medically necessary care” and is reviewing psychiatrist care, medication, routine services, and access to testing and specialists. The correction department did not come up with the full 10 percent cut asked for, however, and is exploring options to come up with the remainder.
- $3.5 million would be saved as state employees migrate to new offices and the state no longer has to operate two Hartford office buildings, one at 165 Capitol Avenue and another at 25 Sigourney Street.
- OPM is considering reducing by $8.7 million state funding for tax relief for low-income elderly property owners and renters. For the renters’ program, for example, the savings could be achieved by sending individual participants pro-rated checks or altering eligibility criteria, an OPM spokesman said.
- The state’s only bee inspector would be eliminated. This savings of $48,000 would end the state program that inspects bee hives to prevent disease and parasites among honey bees. In 2015, there were 1,380 registered beekeepers in the state, and 900 beekeepers are enrolled in training to join the ranks.
- Two separate state agencies are proposing to reduce the testing of mosquitos. The Agriculture Experiment Station says the cut, which would save $42,000.”would significantly reduce our ability to monitor mosquito-borne viruses that cause human disease such as West Nile and Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and the possible introduction of Zika Virus,” That agency is also proposing to stop testing 3,000 ticks each year to save $45,000. A DEEP proposal would cut funding to monitor and spray mosquitos.
- Half of the state’s nursery inspectors would be eliminated under another option from the Agricultural Experiment Station. There are 400 nurseries in the state which contribute $1 billion to Connecticut’s economy. Materials must be inspected before they are shipped out of state. While the experiment station said cutting these inspectors would be “devastating,” it said it has no other options.
- The state agency that investigates Medicaid Fraud and prosecutes other civil and criminal offenses will have to make additional staff reductions to save $5 million. Staffing levels for this office have declined 10 percent in recent years.
- State financial aid for college students based on low family income or academic merit would be cut by $4.4 million. The Board of Regents for Higher Education, the state’s largest public college system which operates the state’s dozen community colleges and four regional state universities, reports the cut in aid would force it to raise tuition at least 2 percent to replace some of the lost revenue, which would still leave the system with a budget shortfall.
- Three service members would continue to attend veterans’ funerals to play Taps and fold and present the flag to mourners, but the state would no longer pay for a firing party to save $326,000.
- More agency-by-agency details are available here.
Correction: The Department of Correction has proposed ending its contract with UConn Health for staff that arrange mental health services for those leaving prison. A previous version of this story had that the entire contract for mental health services was being proposed for elimination.