The big budget lands hard

Gov. Dannel Malloy began last Monday by trying to soften the impact of his new two-year budget proposal – one that would attempt to close a huge deficit and also address long-standing inequities in municipal and school funding.

How much it helped is an open question.

The budget, unveiled Wednesday, was a dramatic departure from past practice, attempting to reorganize the financial relationship between the state, communities and hospitals. It also calls for about $1.5 billion in labor concessions over the two years and would move $400 million in annual teacher pension costs onto Connecticut’s cities and towns.

www.CtMirror.org

Gov. Malloy delivers his budget address to the General Assembly

A theme of the governor’s proposal was a redistribution of state resources to benefit its neediest communities. One element of that would allow municipalities to impose property taxes on nonprofit hospitals – an idea the hospitals call “a dangerous precedent.”

The proposal to assign one-third of the cost of teacher pensions to the municipalities was met by town officials with skepticism, to put it mildly.

Individual recipients of state-administered Medicaid and other kinds of health care would receive less help from the state, with further cuts wrung from a system that already has undergone deep cuts.

Another monumental issue, of course, is how to fund schools after Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s finding that the current system of distributing aid is irrational and unconstitutional. Though the case is still on appeal, ideas on the subject abound. Malloy proposed some significant ones, too.

And when is an increase in state education aid not more education aid? When the municipalities receiving it are not required to spend it on schools, said an official with the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education. Hartford probably won’t, Mayor Luke Bronin said.

As for labor costs, it remains to be seen whether upcoming negotiations with state employee unions will produce money-saving concessions.

Washington fireworks

Office of Sen. Richard Blumenthal

Sen. Richard Blumenthal met with Neil M. Gorsuch in his office Wednesday.

The broad affect of Malloy’s proposal distracted the state, a little, from the continued, contentious national political debate; but it boiled and bubbled just the same.

In Baltimore, at an annual Democratic Party gathering and strategy session, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, co-chair of a group of centrist Democrats, was critical of fellow party members who opposed to the appearance of a centrist speaker.

Back in Washington, D.C., Connecticut’s Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy ramped up his opposition to the confirmation of Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, joining fellow Democrats in an all-night debate aimed at winning over one more Republican needed to reject her – to no avail. 

Murphy and fellow Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal also joined other Democratic senators in vociferous – and unsuccessful – opposition to the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general.

Blumenthal’s visibility on the week’s national political scene peaked after an office visit from President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch.

Gorsuch, Blumenthal said, characterized as “disheartening” and “demoralizing” Trump’s recent attacks on the judiciary, including his reference to the “so-called judge” who put the president’s recent immigration executive order on hold.

Trump attacked the credibility of Blumenthal’s account of Gorsuch’s remarks – even as a Nebraska Republican confirmed Gorsuch had made similar comments to him.

Meanwhile, Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen joined the courtroom opposition to the president’s executive order, which temporarily bans travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

So-called or not, a different federal judge on Wednesday blocked a proposed merger between Anthem and Cigna, agreeing with the Justice Department that it would stifle competition and result in more costly health care for consumers.

Anthem said it will appeal.

Pot money pot

There is money to be made by the state government if it decides to legalize recreational use of marijuana, the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis says. It estimates $45.4 to $104.6 million annually if Connecticut does what Massachusetts or Colorado did. Malloy, who opposes legalizing recreational use of marijuana, did not appear to be moved.

The governor is inclined, however, to spend $250 million to renovate Hartford’s aging XL Center, in hopes that it again will be a first-class entertainment venue and perhaps be appealing to the National Hockey League.

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