The Connecticut General Assembly is in session, and the budget hearings have begun. With the state facing a deficit north of $570 million in the coming fiscal year, legislators are again scrambling to find ways to balance the budget.
There seems to be very little appetite so far for any kind of tax increases, so Governor Malloy and legislators are talking about cuts - and these cuts are being discussed, right now, at multiple Appropriations Committee hearings at the Capitol. You can find the calendar here; today the committee will hear about higher education. Tomorrow at 4 pm they will host the hearing for human services which may be of most interest to you.
There are two things to bear in mind about the budget revisions proposed by Governor Malloy, one about process, one about where the cuts will fall. Both are important, and deserve some attention.
A. WHERE ARE THE CUTS?
The cuts for fiscal year 2017 add up to $570 million. The departments that are facing the worst cuts are the Department of Social Services ($61 million), Department of Developmental Services ($55 million) and from addiction and mental health services ($71 million).
This by itself would be worrisome, but it goes beyond that. According to the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance´s analysis, 72% of the cuts ($408 million) come from non-profit providers. Consequently, many core services offered by these providers will again face an uphill battle meeting the needs of low-income families in the state with diminishing resources.
The slow economic recovery has left many families behind. The budget is asking them again to bear the brunt of the state fiscal woes.
B. HOW ARE THE CUTS BEING INTRODUCED?
Governor Malloy has decided to consolidate most line items in the budget under a generic "agency operations" heading. After that, his proposal states that spending will be cut 5.75%, but without specifying exactly from where.
This is a problem. Instead of the traditional budget breakdown of proposed reductions with specific explanations of what line items are facing cuts, this proposal just offers an agency-wide spending level, and gives the authority to each agency head to decide where to cut. The result is a budget that imposes harsh spending cuts but is lacking in transparency, with no information on what programs will be eliminated.
This is not acceptable. Transparency is an essential for accountability. The Governor´s budget proposal shifts the responsibility and decision making for crucial spending decisions from an open, public process at the General Assembly towards one with no public participation, no open hearings and limited accountability. The only way to make those decisions and introduce real, needed changes to the state budget is through an open, accountable and transparent budget process, not by delegating authority to the executive branch.
WHAT IS NEXT? HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED?
Right now we encourage you to reach out to your legislators, even more so ifthey are on Appropriations. If you are able, we strongly encourage you to submit testimony to the committee, specially if you are involved in a program that is facing cuts. The message is simple:
Feel free to give us a call if you have questions or need a hand drafting testimony, setting up a meeting with a legislator or preparing talking points. We will be happy to help.
It is finally here - Governor Malloy just presented his budget proposal. We knew it was going to be a tough budget year, so there are plenty of things to talk about and discuss. We have a FESC meeting this Friday, 9.30 to 11,30 am, specifically to go over the whole thing and plan ahead. Make sure to come, and there is a lot to talk about.
On to the budget, then. Let´s start with the basics:
- Text of the Governor´s budget address
- Full budget details
- Slides covering the main points.
- Press release
That said, some very early, very quick takes on the budget:
The deficit is still a bit north of $1 billion. To close the gap, the Governor is relying in a mix of spending cuts ($590 million) and revenue increases (not exactly taxes, but close enough), mostly tax cuts promised for this year that will not happen, some tweaks to the sales tax that will increase revenue and money from a settlement with Standard & Poor´s from the financial crisis.
- No layoffs, but a good deal of attrition in the states labor force; 300 positions, or a 2% workforce reduction in two years.
- Full day kindergarten for all children in the state.
- If you like transportation (and you should) the budget has some very good news; the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail line is still on track, and there is quite a lot of investment fixing up Metro North, as well as some road projects. More information here and here.
- Second Chance Society Initiative: some significant changes in criminal justice, including eliminating minimum sentences in some areas, reducing penalties for simple drug possession to misdemeanour and streamlined parole proceedings for non violent offenders.
- The State EITC is not restored to 30% of the federal credit, and remains at 27.5%
- Many important line items remain frozen: municipal aid and ECS funding, for instance, have not seen a nominal increase for the past few budgets, what amounts to a fairly real cut in the past few years.
- Significant program cuts in the department of labor: STRIVE, Jobs Funnel and youth employment, among others, lose more than $5 million in funding.
- The Department of Social Services got hit with big cuts:
- Husky A adults earning above 138% of the Federal Poverty Line will be shifted to Health Access CT, and will have to pay premiums with federal subsidies (a $44.6 million cut).
- The biggest hit, however, was on Medicaid reimbursement rates: $43 million to providers, $5.1 million to low cost hospitals, $4.3 million to ambulance services.
- Healthy Start got zeroed out, among other programs, cutting $8.1 million.
- The overall budget cut looks smaller because they are getting $55 million from new revenue: an update on the Hospital Provider Tax.
- The Office of Early Childhood saw a slew of programs cut, including Help Me Grow, the Community Plans for Early Childhood and Family School Connection (about $2 million)
- Some cuts on higher education: the Uconn block was reduced by $27 million, and Board of Regents saw cuts both on Transform CSCU ($12 million) and their block grant ($4 million). Remedial education pilots and funding are also being cut; we are trying to see exactly by how much.
The budget really does not add up unless one assumes an increase in revenue to appear in the April budget report. It might be there (the economy is actually doing fairly well), but still. We will see.
What if we paid our most at risk parents a minimum wage to go back to school to gain a high school diploma or gain employability skills while their children are in preschool? During the September Early Childhood Alliance meeting Governor Malloy floated this very idea. Some might find this idea absurd, but Connecticut is at a poverty crossroad and maybe it’s time to consider bold initiatives.
Poverty in Connecticut is reaching epidemic proportions. Despite various strategies and valiant efforts we are going backwards. In fact, over the past 25 years, childhood poverty has increased by 50%. Today, in Connecticut, almost 30% of the children are living in poverty or near poverty. For many of the most in need parents, a lack of education and the problem of illiteracy obstruct their personal and economic success, limit the pre-literacy skills of their children and contribute to a cycle of poverty that repeats through generations. This is not a small problem. Recent census data show that about 4,000 children are born in Connecticut each year to a mother that has not completed high school. Additionally 5,000 more children are born to a mother who has no education past high school.
When a parent does not have a high school diploma or career skills training then the chances of the family rising out of poverty are slim. In Connecticut 58% of mothers who did not complete high school are not securely employed. A large percentage of these families are living in poverty and receiving state assistance. The stresses of living in poverty have an effect on family, children and community. With today’s highly skilled workforce, there is little opportunity for career.
What is more disconcerting is that the chances for the children of undereducated parents to be successful in school are significantly impacted. Connecticut eighth grade proficiency tests show that of those children with a mother lacking high school, only 22 % demonstrate reading proficiency and only 14% demonstrate proficiency in math. 40% of these children don’t graduate from high school on time. The cycle of intergenerational poverty continues.
Yet parents living in poverty do not have the means to go back to school. Their only option is to work minimum wage unskilled jobs. They are often part time, include odd hours and have work schedules that vary from week to week. This does not allow for educational opportunity or workforce training that could lead to secure employment and financial independence, hardly a recipe for state prosperity.
So what if we recognize that all parents want their children to thrive and be successful. What if we take a leap of faith and encourage new thinking to help families navigate a way up and out of poverty?
We can turn a blind eye to our neighbors who have been born into poverty or we can stare families straight in the face and like Governor Malloy, imagine bold solutions.
The State's Education Committee will hold two days of Public Hearings on Governor Malloy's proposed Education reforms next Tuesday, February 21 and Wednesday, February 22. Governor Malloy has declared this the session of education and his reform efforts certainly reflect that sentiment.
An Act Concerning Educational Competitiveness includes reforms to the K-12 system, early care and education and cost sharing. The Public Hearing on Tuesday will focus on changing certification procedures for teachers, evaluation and tenure; establishing a new board to oversee Connecticut's technical high schools; and setting up a way to judge the quality of early childhood education programs. Wednesday's Public Hearing will focus on school funding, charter and magnet schools, state intervention in struggling local schools and the costs and procedures of proving special education services.
If you are interested in testifying email a PDF copy of written testimony to email@example.com by 12:00 P.M. on Friday, February 17, 2012, and include the word "Testimony" in the subject line. Written testimony will be accepted in Room 3100 of the LOB until 9:30 A.M. on the date of the hearing. The committee asks that you submit 30 copies. Written testimony submitted after 9:30 A.M. will not be distributed in hard copy form. Sign-up for the hearing will begin at 9:00 A.M. in the First Floor Atrium of the LOB and will conclude at 10:00 A.M. The first hour of the hearing is reserved for Elected Officials. Speakers will be limited to three minutes of testimony.
This afternoon, Governor Malloy announced his plans to invest $12 million to improve the quality of and expand access to early childhood education and care across the state. The new initiative will increase slots, improve teacher training and create a rating system that will allow families to choose the best program for their children.
In particular, his proposal includes:
• Increase Opportunity – $4 million in new funding to provide early childhood opportunities for 500 preschool children
• Improve Quality – $3 million dedicated to improving quality by increasing opportunities and providing incentives for professional development and partnering with high schools and colleges to provide college level early childhood credits
• Inform Parents – $5 million in bond funding to create the statewide Tiered Quality Rating and Improvement System (TQRIS) that will allow parents to access information on early childhood education programs and provide a quality enhancement opportunity for providers by establishing a standard of excellence. The lack of an implemented TQRIS was cited as a weakness in Connecticut’s “Race to the Top” application.