HARTFORD — As Connecticut grapples with its latest budget deficit, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Wednesday ordered $170 million in spending cuts that will affect just about everyone, especially the poor and those most in need.
The order includes a $63 million reduction in social service programs, such as mental health and addiction services, assistance to families and the Department of Children and Family Services.
None of the reductions announced involve cuts in salaries for the governor or his commissioners, said Andrew Doba, Malloy’s spokesman.
Doba said the governor understands the “symbolic” message those types of cuts can represent, but pointed out that his office is already operating with far less funding than previous administrations.
Meanwhile, the University of Connecticut was told to find $10.3 million in savings and the Board of Regents for Higher Education must reduce its budget by $14.4 million. And funding for the state Department of Education, which sends most of its money to the towns and cities, was cut by $8.4 million.
“There is no one reason for the projected shortfall,” said Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes, referring to a $365 million deficit in the current fiscal year.
“The sluggish national economy is part of the equation,” Barnes said. “Revenue hasn’t recovered, as it has in the past when Connecticut was working to climb out of a recession. The demand for services, particularly Medicaid, remains higher than expected. But we have faced larger challenges than this and done so responsibly. Nothing on that front has changed.”
Closer to home, funding for the Stamford Center for the Arts was reduced by $15,000, and money for firemen training schools in Stamford, Fairfield and Derby was slashed by thousands of dollars.
Republican leaders Wednesday offered some praise for Malloy’s cuts while predicting that more reductions are coming as the General Assembly and the governor work to reduce an immediate $365 million deficit in the state’s $20 billion budget, and a projected $1.1 billion deficit for the next fiscal year, which begins in July 2013.
Both Republicans and Democrats conceded the $170 million in cuts actually amount to about $123 million in savings, partly because of previous spending cutbacks and reductions in federal funding.
“But it looks like these are real reductions to spending and it’s an important start — but it’s just that, a start,” said Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield.
“We are still looking at $250 million in spending reductions this year,” McKinney said. “It could be $2 billion for the next two years. There is a lot of work left to do.”
McKinney said he is taking Malloy at his word that the governor will not seek to again raise taxes.
“Making cuts like these is never easy,” said Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney. “However, given the current shortfall, they were unfortunately necessary in order to bring our budget into balance.”
The budget cuts for Executive Branch agencies total $161,694,693 and fall within the governor’s authority without General Assembly approval. Legislative leaders agreed to $3 million in cuts and the Judicial Branch agreed to $5.75 million in reductions.
McKinney said Malloy’s budget deal two years ago, which contained the highest tax increase in state history along with big concessions from union workers, was based on a guarantee that there would be no layoffs for four years. If payroll reductions are off the table, McKinney said cutbacks will have to come from places like social service programs because that’s where there is money to cut.
Asked about cuts in social service programs, Doba said all departments with a deficit were asked to reduce spending. “We don’t like any of this,” he said.
“Many of these cuts are very difficult to make, especially now when so many residents continue to struggle in a tough economy,” Barnes said. “But as painful as they are, cuts are necessary to keep this year’s budget in balance. State government needs to live within its means. And we should all remember that as difficult as some of these reductions are to make now, there are more, even tougher choices ahead.”