Malloy asks for ideas to cut the budget, but agency heads offer few

mark pazniokas / Ctmirror.org file photo

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

Most state agencies have responded to a request from the governor’s budget chief for ideas on where to further cut state spending either by declining to identify reductions, recommending increased spending instead, or failing to reply at all.

The state’s chief medical examiner – where staffing shortages have put the office’s accreditation at risk – returned the suggestion form to the governor’s Office of Policy and Management blank. So did the Office of Higher Education, which administers state-funded college financial aid that has been significantly reduced in recent years.

The Connecticut State Department of Education was more forthright.

“The Department is requesting stability in local education aid for next year,” the state board responded. Spending on education was cut by nearly $100 million this fiscal year.

Revenue options pitched included increasing bus fair by 25 cents (a 14 percent increase that would generate $14.3 million a year) and rail tickets on the Metro North New Haven Line by 10 percent (for a $19 million increase).

Other smaller revenue generators included charging inmates $50 for the state to process their DNA samples, charging local police departments a new $600 fee to expedite reports and analyses, and increasing the fine when vehicles fail to yield for emergency vehicles from $181 to $465.

One agency that did manage to come up with some big recommended cuts was the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. That agency proposes privatizing 22 residential beds for young adults in state-run facilities for a savings of $3.5 million. Closing 20 detox beds at the state-operated Connecticut Valley Hospital and purchasing beds at various general hospitals could save $4.9 million. Closing 15 geriatric beds at Connecticut Valley and privatizing them would save another $3.1 million.

Claude Albert / CTMirror.org file photo

Budget director Benjamin Barnes

The Department of Transportation also estimates that ending weekend rail service for on the Danbury, Waterbury and New Canaan Metro North branch lines could save $15 million.

The governor’s budget office was rounding up suggestions to include in the budget it will propose to the legislature Feb. 7. The state has faced perpetual budget deficits in recent years, which state lawmakers have elected to close with a combination of cuts and revenue.

“In order for this office to provide Governor Malloy with a full array of policy options for maintaining budget balance in [fiscal year] 2019, agencies are strongly encouraged to submit proposals to reduce or eliminate programs,” Ben Barnes, the secretary of the administration’s budget and policy office, wrote agency leaders in December.

After the paucity of suggestions from those leaders, a spokesman for the budget office said the governor will now make his own proposals next Wednesday.

“The governor will release the details of his proposal next week. That proposal will provide realistic and achievable recommendations to legislators for bringing the bipartisan budget into balance while addressing its deficiencies,” said Chris McClure.

See each agency’s budget suggestion by clicking here.

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About Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

Jacqueline won two first prizes from the national Education Writers Association for her work in 2012 – one in beat reporting for her overall education coverage, and the other in investigative reporting on a series of stories revealing questionable monetary and personnel actions taken by the Board of Regents for Higher Education. In 2016, she was a finalist in the EWA competition for single-topic coverage for her reporting on how schools are funded in Connecticut. Before coming to The Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. She has also worked for Congressional Quarterly and the Toledo Free Press. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College. She and her husband, son and two dogs live in Hartford.

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