If the legislature fails to restore $20 million in state funding for early reading programs, 316 employees could lose their jobs in 16 cities and towns on July 1, Republican legislators said Wednesday.
The early reading money fell out of the $18.7 billion budget under the "do-nothing" plan favored by Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the Democrats who control the legislature.
But Republicans said that the money could be restored if the legislature adopts their alternative budget proposal during a special session before the state's fiscal year ends June 30.
Meanwhile, Rell announced that the projected deficit for the next fiscal year has grown to as much as $150 million. The legislature's nonpartisan fiscal office said the deficit for the current fiscal year could be as high as $80 million.
The money for early reading programs was earmarked for 16 low-performing school districts. Losses would be $3.2 million in Hartford, $2.5 million in Waterbury, $2.3 million in New Haven and $1 million in Norwalk. House GOP leader Lawrence Cafero, who lives in Norwalk, said the cut would mean the loss of 13 positions in his town, including literacy coaches and a secretary.
Each town would lose different positions, ranging from tutors to full-time teachers, officials said.
"The reality of the do-nothing budget is setting in," Cafero said. "We believe there is still time to do something."
But House Speaker James Amann rejected Cafero's idea, which he has dubbed the "do something dumb" budget proposal. Republicans, he said, need to drop the idea of reopening the budget because Rell and the Democrats have decided to make no changes in the second year of the two-year budget approved last year.
"I think the message is throw away the stick," Amann said. "The horse is dead. Stop beating it. Let's move on. We've got a budget. It gets a little silly that they're still trying to push a budget that no one is going to support. We've got a budget in place."
Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams agreed, saying, "Once again, legislative Republicans are out of step with their own governor. Their so-called budget is a fantasy — built on false promises — and that's why Gov. Rell doesn't even support it."
The General Assembly is expected to return to the Capitol by mid-June to vote to extend the local portion of the state's real estate conveyance tax, which could generate as much as $40 million for cities and towns. Mayors and first selectmen — represented by lobbyists for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities — have pushed hard for the extension because the increase in the tax is scheduled to expire June 30. If the legislature does nothing, the municipalities would not receive the money in the next fiscal year.
Although Republicans are hoping to debate their budget alternative in the June special session, Amann said, he is working to keep the agenda as narrow as possible and focus only on the conveyance tax. He said he has received about "two dozen" requests for action during the session, but the Democrats, who control the legislature, can limit the agenda.
Rell is trying to reduce the current deficit by imposing an out-of-state travel ban and other belt-tightening measures.
"We are seeing fall-offs in collections of a wide range of taxes and fees — everything from income taxes and real estate conveyance taxes to the cigarette and insurance company taxes, " Rell said. "All of these reflect the softening national economy. We continue to position our state to do well when the economy picks up again, as it inevitably will. In the meantime, however, we must make sure that our spending is controlled."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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