by Christine Stuart
Sep 6, 2011 3:35pm
(Updated 5:30 p.m.) Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes identified $135 million in savings and spending reductions needed to help balance the two-year, $40.1 billion state budget Tuesday.
“This is another example of the governor’s commitment to making government smaller and more efficient,” Barnes said Tuesday. “We’ve said all along that there were a number of cuts proposed in the so-called ‘Plan B’ budget that made a lot of sense and didn’t harm necessary services. These cuts will go forward as we work to meet the goals identified in our budget plan.”
The savings, which were estimated as budget lapses in May when the budget was signed into law, include the closure of Bergin Correctional Institution, reduction of security in state buildings, reductions in printing costs, and an increase in retirements and vacancies.
It also accounts for the layoffs of 56 state troopers. The savings for those positions are estimated at $2.2 million. The remaining troopers will be laid off at the end of this week.
The Connecticut State Police Union was one of two bargaining units that failed to ratify the two-year wage freeze, which was part of the $1.6 billion concession package. The other was 21 Corrections supervisors unit. The elimination of those positions will save the state $8.6 million.
As for the closure of the Mansfield prison, Barnes said it was sped up after the first labor concession deal failed. The state will realize $5.8 million from the early closure of Bergin. Closure of a second prison, such as Enfield Correctional Institute, is still possible this year, but it was not included as part of the list Barnes distributed Tuesday.
That list also included the elimination of the casino bus, which was a service provided by the Department of Social Services when the two casinos were opened more than a decade ago.
“The casino bus was put in place at a time when there was a very difficult time filling positions at the casinos—15 years ago—things have changed,” Barnes said. The elimination of the bus will save the state more than $270,000.
The additional $135 million in budget reductions, was always identified in the budget as a goal, but Tuesday was the first time those reductions and savings were identified.
Some of them came about after the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition failed to ratify the first labor agreement in June. Some were realized after passage of the $1.6 billion labor agreement this past August.
“State employees remain concerned about a number of additional service shutdowns that will have a negative impact on Connecticut residents if they go forward,” Matt O’Connor, a SEBAC spokesman, said. “The recent closure of the Bergin Correctional Institution threatens safety and security in the state’s crowded remaining prisons, for example.”
“In some cases, planned cuts won’t even save money,” O’Connor added referring to the Early Connections program for infants and toddlers run by the Department of Developmental Services. The decision to end admissions to the program was made by the agency and it’s unclear if the cut is reflected in the numbers Barnes distributed Tuesday.
Joan Barnish, spokeswoman DDS, said last week the program currently has 223 children enrolled, the youngest of which is six months old. She said the redeployment of most of the staff won’t happen for another two and a half years, but is part of the department’s effort to transition the program to the private sector.
Currently, it costs the state $20,000 to educate a child in the state-run program, while it costs a private provider about $8,400 per child, Barnish said.The recent decision to permanently close admissions to Early Connections birth to three services means infants and toddlers with disabilities or delays will lose out on critical care and education. But when the Department of Developmental Services tried to shutter the program two years ago, their commissioner said the move had helped drag the agency deeper into deficit, according to union officials.
“These are examples of why a collaborative approach between the front-line workers who deliver vital services and management in state agencies is critical,” O’Connor said Tuesday. “Only with our help can the administration make better choices for achieving greater efficiency without sacrificing Connecticut’s quality of life.”
The savings Barnes identified Tuesday are expected to increase as the number of state employees who decide to retire before Oct. 1 increases. There was no early retirement plan offered as part of the concession deal, but the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition agreement made it less lucrative for employees to retire after Oct. 1.
“We already have 2,500 vacant positions in state government. I expect that number to grow hundreds more,” Barnes said.
He said September will be a busy month for employees in the state Comptroller’s office processing retirements. He said they’ve already received a lot of interest from more state employees than assumed by the $65 million in retirement savings estimated as part of the SEBAC agreement.
“We claim no originality here. These are ideas we have been working around,” Barnes said.
Barnes noted that the amounts identified in the attached document will be held back by OPM from agencies’ requested allocations.
“These are not rescissions and not changes to line-items,” he said. “They are budgeted amounts OPM will hold back from the agencies. If, as the year progresses, the state’s fiscal picture deteriorates, the governor retains the rescission authority granted him by statute.”
The governor can rescind up to 5 percent for most of state government and 3 percent of any fund, except aid to municipalities.
“We will meet our budget goals,” Barnes said. “And we won’t push budget problems into the future. This Governor has every intention of providing the citizens of Connecticut a fiscally responsible and responsive government. These cuts are another step towards that goal.”
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