It’s a race against the clock. Now in the second full week of September, the state has endured over a dozen weeks of the new fiscal year with no budget and legislators are rushing to pass a budget before massive municipal cuts are enacted on Oct. 1. Ahead of an anticipated State House of Representatives budget vote on Thursday, Sept. 14, State Representative Sean Scanlon (D-98) sat down with residents on Sept. 7 to discuss the budget situation.
The state entered the new fiscal year on July 1 with no budget and on Aug. 18, Governor Dannel P. Malloy put a dramatic proposal on the table threatening to cut the vast majority of municipal aid if no budget is adopted by Oct. 1; with no budget, the state continues to operate under executive order. For many shoreline towns, the governor’s proposal would mean a significant, if not complete, loss of municipal aid. In response, House Democrats put a budget proposal on the floor on Aug. 23.
While the House Democratic proposal restored most municipal aid to Guilford, on Sept. 8, Malloy offered another budget proposal, displaying a more moderate redistribution of state aid from more wealthy communities to poorer communities. While possibly more modest, under this most recent proposal, Guilford would still lose all Education Cost Sharing (ECS) money—$2,740,394.
At Scanlon’s Coffee and Conversation meeting on Sept. 7, nearly 50 residents came to express their specific concerns about the recent budget proposals. Topics were wide ranging—including the proposed sales tax increase, the recently accepted employee concessions deal, and cuts in services for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
A large number of families with children or family members with some form of disability showed up at the meeting. Residents spoke about the proposed cuts to a variety of programs that help those individuals, including the Department of Developmental Services budget, transition programs, and after school programs, saying that the state is trying to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable in the state. Scanlon said he is trying to be the best advocate for all residents, particularly the vulnerable, but the structure of the budget makes things difficult.
In odd numbered years, the state approves and (theoretically) passes a two-year budget. Each year’s budget comes to about $19 billion, so the two-year budget is roughly $40 billion. Within the $40 billion, 80 percent of the budget is eaten up by four elements that are difficult to cut or negotiate: Medicaid, municipal aid, personnel, and debt, according to Scanlon. As those four elements are hard to cut, the remaining 20 percent of the budget, sometimes referred to as discretionary spending, which includes things like funding for state parks and programs for those with disabilities, is what legislators have to work with when trying to cut spending.
“A lot of times when I go to work I feel like I am playing one big game of Jenga because when you remove one piece and you think you have solved one big issue, something else has to get pulled and it is difficult to do that,” said Scanlon.
There is no doubt that the budget situation is dire, but a clear solution has yet to materialize. Residents at the meeting suggested multiple revenue solutions including tollbooths and supporting the tax increase, but what will be approved by the legislature is still unknown. Scanlon said a vote on a budget proposal is expected on the floor of the house on Sept. 14.
“I have been calling publicly for us to vote on something because I think all of the time that has gone by has been very detrimental and painful not just to human beings, but also to the state,” he said. “…We have to rip the Band-Aid off and pass something to avoid the very painful cuts that are going to happen on Oct. 1.”
As budget proposals continue to fly around Hartford, Scanlon said he appreciates the input of local residents.
“I don’t believe I am the smartest guy in the room and I don’t have all of the answers, so I hold meetings like this to get feedback from all of you to help guide the decision,” he said.
Check www.zip06.com and upcoming editions of the Courier for in-depth coverage of the state budget process.