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Budget Balancing Blues

by Christine Stuart | Aug 29, 2011 8:31am
(0) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Labor, State Budget

After a lengthy fight to save jobs through a negotiated concession package, union officials didn’t think they would be fighting again so soon — this time to save state programs.

The closure of the juvenile jail in New Haven and the phase-out of the Early Connections program managed by the Department of Developmental Services are just the latest casualties of the state budget ax.

The closure of the juvenile jail was first proposed in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s “Plan B” budget after the first vote by State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition members ended with a defeat for the concession package in June.

The union coalition has since approved the agreement that’s expected to save the state $1.6 billion over the next two years, but the administration says the budget cutting exercise it went through in July was productive in helping them identify additional savings that don’t require state employee layoffs.

“We have issues with these service shutdowns,” Matt O’Connor, SEBAC spokesman said Monday. “They don’t make sense to us.”

He said state employees were voting not only for their jobs but to save the programs they run. He said the shutdown of the Early Connections program is particularly troublesome, since similar attempts two years ago proved to increase costs rather than reduce them.

Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said they’re going through all non-union employees and deciding if they need to bring any of them back now that Motor Vehicle Department branches and other state buildings will remain open. Next, the administration will go through all the non-personnel, non-facility closure issues and possibly look at what grants it could reduce, Barnes said.

The exercise is expected to be completed this week.

New Haven lawmakers were surprised the Judicial Branch decided to go forward with the $2.5 million cut, which means the 15 youth currently at the facility will be shipped to the newer juvenile jail in Bridgeport, or possibly to the one in Hartford.

“You don’t want to move them away from the supports that they know,” Rep. Holder-Winfield told the New Haven Independent last week. He said taking kids away from their support network exposes them to the risk of becoming lifelong recidivists.

“Making a cut like that is not something you want to do,” Holder-Winfield said. He said “if I had my way, I wouldn’t close it,” but he declined to come out in opposition of the move. He said he recognizes that the state needs the savings.

Michael P. Lawlor, Malloy’s undersecretary for criminal justice issues, said last week that the reason the closure of the New Haven operation is possible is because the number of juvenile’s in detention is dropping, and New Haven is the oldest of the three facilities.

“All three facilities are not even half full,” Lawlor said.

He said as a general rule you want to have these kids close to their families, “but we’re talking about a really small number of kids.”

As of last week there were 80 juveniles in jail, including 15 in New Haven, 38 in Hartford, and 27 in Bridgeport. Five years ago there were 150 kids in detention, but public policy decisions have cut that number in half, Lawlor said.

Melissa Farley, a spokeswoman for the Judicial Branch, said it’s possible the state will pay for transportation for the families, but the Bridgeport facility is more modern and offers recreational opportunities that don’t exist in New Haven.

She said the branch still needs to identify about $12.7 million in cuts and is looking at ways to save money, including reducing the number of collections in the law libraries by $1 million and the number of days trial judge referees can work.

Joan Barnish, spokeswoman for the Department of Developmental Services, said Friday that there are 43 private agencies currently providing these early intervention services and the state employees that run the program won’t be losing their jobs as a result of the decision.

Barnish said the department is closing admissions to the program. It 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 goal of the program is to strengthen the capacity of families to meet the developmental and health-related needs of their infants and toddlers who have delays or disabilities.

Barnish said the public sector is just not taking any new admissions.

While state is looking to create efficiencies it is also looking to increase bus and rail fares.

The Department of Transportation held hearings last week to increase rail fares by 16.4 percent and bus fares by 10 percent with numerous reductions in both.

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