From legislators to state agencies to cities and towns, officials from around the state are roundly criticizing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's Plan B budget options that include laying off more than 4,700 state employees.
Mayors and first selectmen want to avoid up to $482 million in potential cuts for the fiscal year beginning July 1 — cuts that could come if the state fails to reach an agreement with the state employee unions. No deal was reached Monday, but the two sides are continuing their negotiations.
The list of budget-cutting options covers virtually every state agency and department, including major layoffs at vocational-technical schools.
Roy Occhiogrosso, senior adviser and chief spokesman for Malloy, said he was not surprised at the opposition to the proposed cuts because the administration has essentially the same view.
"We don't like it. The governor doesn't like it,'' Occhiogrosso said Monday in his office. "That's why it's Plan B and not Plan A. He doesn't like it. He sure doesn't expect anyone else to like it.''
Malloy's budget director, Ben Barnes, delivered a list of $1.2 billion in potential cuts that would eventually be pared down by Malloy and the legislature. Under the law, Malloy would need to present his newest version of the budget by May 31 in order for the legislature to act by the scheduled end of the General Assembly's session on June 8.
"It is a framework, so the details in all likelihood would change,'' Occhiogrosso said. "The final Plan B [if there is no union deal] would include the least horrible mix of spending cuts, layoffs, and reductions in municipal aid.''
Sen. Edith Prague, a key player as the vice chairwoman of the budget-writing appropriations committee, said the 4,700 layoffs would backfire because the state would be forced to pay the full cost of unemployment benefits directly to the laid-off workers.
"This Plan B takes my breath away,'' Prague said. "It's so unbelievable what it would do to the state of Connecticut. I can't believe these cuts. This is the worst I have seen.''
The potential cuts include eliminating the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, closing four workers' compensation district offices, shutting down both Governor's Horse Guards in Avon and Newtown, closing an unnamed prison and the state library, selling the state police helicopter, and eliminating all funding for the Office of the Child Advocate.
"I don't mind closing prisons, and I don't mind doing away with longevity pay, and I don't mind looking at some of the outrageous salaries for the fire department at CVH,'' Prague said. She was referring to an article in Sunday's Hartford Courant that said that the annual wages, including overtime, for the fire chief and assistant chief at Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown in the past fiscal year were more than $130,000 each.
Republican legislators have tried to eliminate the longevity payments that are awarded to veteran state employees, but it has not happened yet.
Malloy's Plan B proposals raise many questions that the governor has yet to explain, state House Republican leader Lawrence Cafero of Norwalk said Monday in a telephone interview.
"Most of what he does is cut municipal aid," Cafero said, "and this is coming from the same man who has been a mayor and said 'I am not going to hurt the municipalities' " by essentially forcing local cities and towns to raise their property taxes. With reduced state aid, some towns would need to increase property taxes – their main source of income – in order to maintain the same level of services."
Cafero said he cannot tell if the governor's potential cuts to municipal aid would be temporary or permanent — and if they would be temporary, then he is "creating a structural hole" in the budget, which is "something he said was abhorrent to him."
The Republican leader said his party's lawmakers had presented a budget proposal — rejected by the Democratic legislative majority — that would have maintained current levels of municipal aid and not raised state taxes.
Larry Dorman, the chief spokesman for the state employee unions, said the unions, too, want to avoid Plan B.
"Any time you're talking about mass layoffs and the elimination of services people need, you're going to see something that is disastrous in the short and long term,'' he said.
William Seymour, the chief spokesman for the state Department of Motor Vehicles, declined to discuss what plans the department is making to comply with the potential cuts.
"No one wants to go there,'' Seymour said. "We're not going to discuss the specifics of the proposed cuts because they are just that: proposals. We're hoping there will be a resolution to the discussions underway.''
"This hurts everyone statewide — the taxpayers, the residents, the state employees,'' Seymour said of Plan B. "We're optimistic that some kind of an agreement can be reached and we can avoid some or any of these proposals being put into effect.''
The Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, the state agency that investigates and hears discrimination complaints, is slated to lose 100 percent of its funding under Malloy's Plan B. All 80 commission employees would lose their jobs.
But spokesman Jim O'Neill said those who work for the CHRO "don't feel particularly targeted by the administration." The proposed cuts to the commission were simply "the simplest way of getting the numbers they need to get to,'' he added.
Besides, he added, "We can't worry about things that haven't happened yet."
Courant staff writers Jon Lender and Daniela Altimari contributed to this report.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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