By Roger Senserrich, CAHS Policy Director
Another year, another budget deficit—but this year is truly worse.
The 2016 legislative session started like every session seems to start in Connecticut, with a hefty budget deficit for FY2017. Projections indicated that the state would spend $570 million more than what it would raise next year, so the Governor and General Assembly had to look again for a way to balance the numbers.
Making matters far worse, in mid-February new revenue numbers came in, and the deficit turned out to be much larger than expected. In addition to a considerable increase in this fiscal year´s budget (up to $266 million deficit), the hole for 2017 ballooned to $911 million, and is likely to rise.
As a result, even if Governor Malloy’s proposed midterm budget adjustment did balance the budget, we will need more cuts—or new revenue, for which there seems to be no appetite in an election year among the Governor and legislators.
Another challenge for advocates is that it was hard to know from the Governor´s proposal exactly how he planned to balanced the numbers, and we know even less now. In the budget adjustment, instead of the usual list of line items showing which programs receive funding and which are cut or eliminated, all programs are bundled under a single “agency operations” line, without any specifics. We know that “agency operations” will get a 5.75% cut in funding, but we don’t know which programs are cut.
Here’s what we do know: for starters, the bulk of Connecticut’s state budget (about two-thirds of it) cannot be cut, as it covers mandatory spending, entitlements, interest payments and contractual obligations. Most of the remaining third is where social services, health care, and education funding gets its money from. So the proposed cuts are not really across the board, but fall mostly on the needy and the social service providers that serve them. More than $400 million of the $570 million in cuts Governor Malloy proposes cuts would come from nonprofit providers that have seen their resources dwindling for years. Although they offer essential services for low-income families, they are facing the bulk of the cuts.
As of now, the General Assembly seems poised to unbundle agency operations and provide more transparency with line items, so we at least will be able to discuss what is being cut. CAHS’s focus, as always, will be championing programs that deliver results, with an eye on improving social services. Before we can do that and work to achieve systemic change, we need to know where the money is going. It is a first step.