By CHRISTOPHER KEATING
The Hartford Courant
March 10, 2009
Democrats outlined extreme budget cuts Monday that included closing prisons and college campuses, but they said they do not favor the draconian measures.
Lawmakers said they needed to offer the cuts – in three versions – in order to show the measures that would be necessary if the state tries to balance the budget without tax increases. Gov. M. Jodi Rell offered a budget in February with no tax increases, and her budget chief, Robert Genuario, said Monday night that he believes the budget can be balanced without tax increases.
In the first version of the Democratic plan, lawmakers called for closing two regional campuses of the University of Connecticut, six community-technical colleges, and one branch of the four-campus Connecticut State University system. They would also close two prisons and two state parks, eliminate 11 deputy warden positions and cut $200 million each year in educational cost-sharing funding for public schools in all cities and towns. The two other versions offer different degrees of cuts, such as eliminating the agriculture department or reducing funding for charter and magnet schools by 10 percent each.
But Republicans said that proposing the cuts was a waste of time, and Rell’s spokesman, Christopher Cooper, said the exercise was unnecessary.
“The Democrats say they want to ’scare the public’ by showing them what $2 billion in cuts look like,” Cooper said. “The people of Connecticut are plenty scared already. … They do not need their elected leaders in Hartford scaring them as well.”
Cooper said Democrats have had multiple chances at making cuts in three deficit-mitigation plans proposed by Rell to close this fiscal year’s budget gap. Those plans have been approved since before Thanksgiving as lawmakers battled to close the deficit.
“They have not put one cut on the table,” Cooper said. “Not one cut.”
But Doug Whiting, a spokesman for House Speaker Christopher Donovan, said Monday night that the Democrats would have made $30 million in cuts recently that Rell opposed. Those included $20 million from the Connecticut Development Authority, plus millions from eliminating deputy commissioners at state agencies and deputy wardens at state prisons.
House Majority Leader Denise Merrill, a Storrs Democrat, said the 114-member Democratic caucus, which met Monday, had reviewed the proposed cuts closely. Deep cuts, she said, would harm the economy and lead to layoffs both for state employees and workers in the private sector.
“What this is today is a reality check,” Merrill said. “Our caucus was adamant that these cuts are unacceptable.”
The state is facing a budget deficit as high as $8.7 billion over the next two fiscal years.