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Record breaking cuts to social services and education programs – no new taxes for the wealthy

by Jon Pelto from Wait, What

It’s morning in Connecticut: Do you know what the budget bill means?

With little debate, and even less awareness of the ramifications of passing the bill, the State House of Representatives voted 140 to 3 and the State Senate voted 31 to 3 to pass a deficit mitigation bill that included a record breaking set of cuts to social services and education programs.

Considering the bill wasn’t even available to review until just before the vote, legislators would be hard-pressed to claim that they knew the magnitude of the cuts or how those cuts would impact their constituents AND some of the most vulnerable people in our state.

Ending partisan gridlock is a grand thing, and creating bi-partisan cooperation has plenty of benefits, but one would hope that political expediency wouldn’t take the place of good public policy. Looking at the list of cuts, its pretty clear political expediency won out.

In this case, led by a Democratic Governor and a Democratic Legislature, along with the support of nearly every single Republican, Connecticut’s elected officials chose to spare millionaires from having to pay their fair share in income taxes and instead cut just over $250 million in funding for state services, on top of the $120 million Governor Malloy cut last month.

As reported in the CTMirror, “Connecticut’s hospitals took the single-largest hit in the package adopted Wednesday, losing nearly $90 million.” With Malloy’s rescissions last month, Connecticut’s hospitals have now lost a total of $103 million. These were funds that hospitals received to cover the costs of uninsured patients and help to make up for the below-cost reimbursement rates for Medicaid patients.

In the short-term, the funding cuts to hospitals will lead to additional layoffs at many Connecticut hospitals, and in the longer term, the cuts will produce higher health insurance premiums, as costs are shifted even more quickly to those who have health insurance.

The massive cut to the 29 acute-care hospitals did produce some of the no votes.

As CTNewsjunkie reported, “Johnson Memorial Hospital is just emerging from bankruptcy and can’t handle a $608,000 cut, Bacchiochi said. It’s also the largest employer in her mostly rural district and she’s concerned it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Guglielmo [the State Senator from Stafford] cited Johnson Memorial Hospital as one of the reasons he voted against the bill.”

In addition to hospitals, significant cuts were made to a wide variety of community-based health, mental health and social service programs including autism services, mental health housing programs, re-entry programs for ex-offenders, after school programs and many of the state’s arts and culture grants.

In addition to the actual cuts, by reducing state funding for Medicaid programs, Connecticut lose about $60 million in funding from the Federal government, since Washington reimburses Connecticut 50 cents for every dollar the state spends on those programs.

Beyond the cuts, the deficit mitigation bill also increased revenue by $30 million by limiting a couple of business tax credit programs, including a relatively minor change to the film tax credit and the expansion of an element of the tax on electricity generation.

The budget mitigation plan also swept up $11 million in one-time funds that had been reserved and devoted to specific targeted programs (such as energy conservation) and shifted the state’s $10 million stem cell research program to the state’s credit card.

Finally, the plan collects and extra $9.5 million, as CTMirror explains, “by intensifying efforts to identify and prevent state income tax fraud.”

There was a fair amount of discussion about eliminating longevity payments for non-union employees. Completely eliminating the longevity payments, those being the twice a year payments that employee with more than ten years of state service receive, would save $6 million a year.

Under the plan that passed last night, the 3,200 non-union state employees will get their longevity payments one last time in April AND those last payments will be added to each employee’s base pay. However, after that, longevity payments for the non-union employees will be eliminated.

A variety of education programs also got cut, “saving” the state budget about $11 million. The UConn Health Center was also cut an additional $4 million. The higher education cuts come on top Malloy’s recent $10 million cut to UConn and $14 million cut to the Connecticut State Universities and Community Colleges. Malloy also made a multi-million dollar cut to student financial aid for lower-income Connecticut students attending public colleges in the state, money students had been promised next month.