Malloy veto of education funding bill likely will stand

ctmirror.org

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Legislative leaders are leaning against attempting to override Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s latest veto.

The reason: they included what effectively amounts to duplicate language in a second bill the governor already has signed.

At issue is the governor’s authority to reduce education grants to cities and towns after the budget has been adopted and the new fiscal year is underway. The governor, who was tasked by legislators this fiscal year with finding an unprecedented $881 million in General Fund cost savings once the budget was in force, lopped $91 million off town aid — nearly half of which came from Education Cost Sharing grants.

Lawmakers sent a bill to Malloy’s desk in early May that would prohibit education grant reductions, even to meet mandated savings targets. The governor vetoed it on June 1.

The House and Senate had passed the measure 117-32 and 36-0, respectively — both topping the two-third’s margin that would be needed for a veto override.

So if the numbers presumably are there to override the governor, why not do so?

Leaders from both parties noted Section 10 of the new state budget enacted last month, for the fiscal year starting July 1, contains the same prohibition.

And while the budget bill only bars education grant cuts in the 2018-19 fiscal year — unlike the ongoing prohibition in the measure Malloy vetoed — leaders said there is plenty of time next year to re-adopt a permanent prohibition before the new budget expires on June 30, 2019.

“I don’t think it’s necessary to drag folks in [to special session] to rub the governor’s nose in it,” said Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven.

“Given the safeguards against further cuts to town and city education aid that were included in the budget the governor signed, I am not convinced there is a reason to haul lawmakers back to Hartford for a veto session on this issue,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby.

Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said he hadn’t consulted the Senate Democratic Caucus yet but that he personally also considers a special session unnecessary.

“The legislature, any time it wants, can include that provision in future budgets,” Looney said. 

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, reserved judgment, saying he wanted to consult with fellow House Democrats first. The speaker added that “ensuring that the municipalities get the funding that they expect to get free of holdbacks is very important to us.”

But the governor suggested the best way for legislators to bring predictability to the budget is to make the hard choices themselves.

Legislatures routinely build savings targets into each annual budget to cut the bottom line. The governor and the rest of the executive branch achieve these savings — dubbed “lapses” since the unspent dollars lapse back into the General Fund — by leaving positions vacant, deferring equipment and other purchases, scaling back programs and achieving other efficiencies.

But legislators also use these “lapses” for political purposes. Rather than balancing the budget by cutting a specific program or grant directly — or by raising a tax — they simply order a higher savings target.

And Malloy has noted in recent years that legislators — despite raising lapse targets considerably — still react with shock and blame when he achieves the mandated savings.

“If the legislature wishes to provide additional stability and predictability to cities and towns in formulating their budgets, the best way to do so is to pass a state budget that identifies specific savings or additional revenue to pay for the level of assistance it wishes to provide,” the governor wrote in his veto message.

But legislative leaders, who excluded the Malloy administration from the final negotiations that produced the last two annual budgets, said the governor still could have hit the savings targets without trimming town aid.

“We gave him places he could cut,” Fasano said, adding these included executive appointments, overtime and other personnel costs. “I honestly believe that because he was not part of the budget [talks,] he had to make himself relevant. He disregarded the list we gave him.”

Klarides called the governor’s town aid cuts this fiscal year “punitive and spiteful actions.”

General Fund savings targets averaged $300 million per year in Malloy’s first four-year term.

In the first three fiscal years of Malloy’s second term, though, legislators mandated targets averaging $$431 million.

Aresimowicz said that while this does place considerable pressure on the governor, “lapse” savings are a necessity when faced with deficit forecasts like legislators have dealt with in recent years. 

“In a perfect world, I think the budget we pass would be a complete document,” he said. “But after several years of very tight budgets, it’s hard to find the savings and the governor’s office is better suited to do that.”

Looney added that legislators did set a very low General Fund savings target for the new fiscal year starting July 1, putting it at just $21.5 million.

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