1. The budget: a general overview
The Governor´s budget proposal included $590 million in spending cuts. As you probably recall, many of them were painful, with some deep cuts to programs like Husky A and education. The Appropriations budget (HB 6824, for those looking for it), in comparison, would spend $470 million more than the Governors proposal - that is, it only has $120 million in cuts.
The result is a budget that although it still includes quite a few cuts (and no inflation adjustments) it does much more to preserve essential services. Appropriations deserve a good deal of praise for this document; if you legislators sits in the committee, you should give them a call and thank them for their efforts. It still is a tough budget year, but the committee members have stepped up in many ways to make things better.
Of course, there is something that needs some discussion: the spending cap. Appropriations considers that long term payments to the state´s many pension funds (teachers, state workers...) should be consider debt, not spending, and consequently should not be counted as spending under the spending cap. The CT Mirror has an excellent overview on this subject here. We support the actions that the committee has taken in this regard; pension obligations are debt, and should be considered as such.
For a good bird´s eye view of what is on the budget, the Mirror has an excellent tracker - you can find it here. With all that said, let´s have a look at the changes that are relevant to our agenda.
2. The budget: social programs
There are quite a few very positive changes in this area - I will list the most relevant ones, both from the perspective of how many low income families are affected and based on our agenda.
The most important change is, by far, the restoration of funding for Husky A parents and pregnant women. Under the Governor´s proposal, parents of kids in households between 138% and 200% of the federal poverty line would have lost coverage and be shifted to the health exchange. Pregnant women would be forced to the Access Health CT website, as well. All in all, 34,000 people would have had their coverage severely reduced.
The Appropriations budget proposal reverses these changes ($44 million), and also reduces some of the cuts in Medicaid reimbursement rates ($27 M). Both are welcome changes.
Funding is partially restored for Cradle to Career and STRIVE. Cuts remain on I-BEST funding (although part of it would be redirected through other line items) and Youth Service Prevention Grants.
3. The budget: Education
A lot of good news in this area, as well. We have not looked at the funding streams for K-12 in the municipal side of things, but many programs are back on the budget, and there is even room for some very pleasant surprises.
Two Generation Strategies:
CAHS has been talking about two-gen strategies a lot for the past few months, working with many of our FESC and Early Childhood Alliance partners on this area (more information on these programs here).
The budget includes $2 million to launch pilot programs in several communities, following the recommendations of the state task force.
We will be talking a lot more about two-gen strategies in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!
The budget includes $5 million of additional funding for full year school readiness. It also partially restores several key programs:
-Community plans for early childhood ($712,000)
-Head Start Link ($720,000)
-Children Trust Fund, including Help Me Grow and Family School Connection ($882,000)
-Early literacy ($142,000)
Some changes here, as well, although not everything is additional funding. Charter and magnet schools actually lost some money ($7.7 and $3 million, respectively); some programs did not get restored, like Wrap Around services (only got $25,000), Parent Universities and School to work.
A few key programs were partially restored: LEAP, Neighborhood Centers and the Parents Trust Fund program.
Of all the changes the most relevant for us is the restoration of almost $14 million to the Board of Regent´s Transform SCSU grant, and more specifically, the fact that the budget earmarks $27 million for remedial education, including the new partnerships with adult education providers.
Besides that, Uconn gets some of its funding restored ($26M), and the Governor´s Scholarship program can now cover some private universities.
4. The budget: Property Tax Reform
One thing that should be getting more attention: the budget includes $41 million in funding for S.B.1, the property tax reform bill that is currently being discussed on the Finance Committee.
We have talked about the bill in a couple of policy briefs (here and here); it is a very good reform that would greatly help poor cities and towns. The car tax portion will likely see some significant changes and we will likely see tweaks to the PILOT reform and regional revenue sharing, but the bill seems to have quite a bit of support.
If you care about education funding or urban economic development in the state (and you should!), it is time to start bringing up that you support S.B.1 to legislators, especially if they sit on finance.
One final note:
I mentioned at the beginning of this post l that it would be a good idea to reach out to your legislators in the Appropriations Committee and thank them for their work on the budget.
The list of changes is impressive, and they will be getting quite a bit of flak on some issues like the spending cap. The same way we have been hounding them to reverse the cuts for the past few weeks, it is time to call or e-mail them and support their work. We are still quite far from a final budget, so we will need all the allies we can get.