The General Assembly finally ended the longest budget battle in state history with Friday's passage of bills to implement the state's two-year, nearly $37.6 billion budget. But the bickering isn't over.
If Gov. M. Jodi Rell signs the budget bills, within a few months she may have to order more cuts. State Comptroller Nancy Wyman warned Thursday that anemic tax collections could put the budget $500 million or more in the red.
By early November, Mrs. Rell could throw the hot potato back in the legislature's lap with a deficit-mitigation plan for it to act on.
There will almost inevitably be tough decisions to make — which courts or prisons to close, which programs to slash. So it's critical the state's executive and legislative leaders figure out how to work together. They've been unsuccessful so far.
The legislature took all the easy outs, using one-shot revenues, gobbling up the rainy-day fund and federal stimulus money, borrowing a bunch more money and passing on cuts and consolidations, including paring duplicative state commissions and boards. The governor tied her hands by striking a deal with unions that eliminated the possibility of layoffs.
A few tough decisions were made Friday, including putting off the worthy but expensive in-school suspension program for a year. Towns and cities had complained loudly about this "unfunded mandate," which they said would force them to find space and pay adults to supervise suspended students instead of sending them home.
Also, House Majority Leader Denise Merrill was right to withdraw her proposal to revise a funding formula that might have helped only her town of Mansfield. Her proposal would have fixed the complex formula that has deprived her town of funds because of its huge UConn student population. But the issue deserves more discussion.
Another matter that deserved a fuller airing was $1.3 million for what Republicans called an unnecessary study and Democrats a pilot program involving children of incarcerated parents. No Democrats rose to defend it when it came under attack from a Republican leader. Yet it passed anyway.
Exhausted legislators are undoubtedly happy to have the budget behind them. Except it isn't. The level of acrimony between the Republican governor and the Democratic-controlled legislature is the highest that many longtime observers recall.
They'll both have to get over it. The financial realities will be nasty enough in the next few months.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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