Lawmakers Propose Modest Spending Increase, Spare Some Programs But Not Hospitals
The legislature’s Appropriations Committee proposed a modest $49 million increase in spending over Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s two-year, $43.8 billion budget and spared municipalities radical changes to their funding formulas. But the committee also maintained what have been described as “painful” cuts to hospitals.
According to the budget documents released Friday morning, the Appropriations Committee has proposed scrapping Malloy’s recommendation to use PILOT funds for municipal education funding. Instead, it will redistribute $50.8 million in the first year and $101.5 million in the second year through the Education Cost Sharing formula under its own criteria.
The legislative budget, which will be voted on later today, reduces the funding to Commissioner Network schools — which is a group of low-performing schools the state took over — by about $1.75 million in each fiscal year.
Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, said rather than take the state-owned PILOT grant and transfer it to the Education Cost Sharing formula they simply cut it by $11 million. She said they also re-established the Mashantucket Pequot grant and cut it by $11 million and cut college and hospital PILOT by $11 million.
“We understand that if we don’t fund them it’s a cost shift of sorts to the local area to the most onerous tax which is our property tax,” Harp said.
The committee also scales back the number of charter schools the state plans to fund over the next two years.
The committee headed by Rep. Toni Walker and Sen. Toni Harp of New Haven also spared working parents from having to pay more for their insurance by scrapping a plan to move about 37,500 to the insurance exchange.
The committee will maintain funding of $5.6 million in the first year and $58.8 million in the second year of the budget for HUSKY parents while they encourage state officials to look at creating a Basic Health Plan in 2015. Under a basic health plan, individuals who fall between 133 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level and qualify for federal subsidies under the Affordable Care Care can stay in a Medicaid-type plan if their state creates one.
Connecticut has failed to pass legislation creating a Basic Health Plan over the past two years, mostly because of the administration’s objections.
But it looks like the 29 acute care hospitals will have to do more lobbying to get the legislature to change its mind about phasing out compensation for the uninsured.
The Appropriations Committee budget includes the same hospital funding cuts Malloy included in his budget.
Lawmakers complained mightily about how those hospital cuts will impact their communities, but it looks like they were unable to come up with a solution to find about $550 million.
Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, said Wednesday that she was wanted to see funding to area hospitals restored in the legislature’s budget proposal.
“I’m very anxious about how that’s going to work out. That was such an enormous amount of money that it’s at the level of a larger policy shift in very many respects and I’ve spent much of this session working hard to understand from all sides,” she said.
Malloy’s administration has defended the cuts.
With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act on the horizon, the uninsured population is expected to decrease from 11 percent to 2 percent, which means more patients will have health insurance and the financial model hospitals rely upon will be restored.
But hospital executives fear that the increase in revenue from serving a greater number of insured patients may not happen in time for hospitals to keep their doors open.
“Although hospital executives are now claiming they are being cut, they are simply trying to preserve large increases in state funding,” Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes has said. “The reality is that the governor’s proposal would hold them at just about the same amount of total funding through 2015 that they get this year.”
Malloy created the Office of Government Accountability two years ago through legislation that consolidated nine previously separate agencies under one roof over the objections of some of the agency executives. When he released his budget in February, Malloy proposed that those agencies inside the OGA share their legal staff under a newly created Office of Hearings.
The committee budget scraps that proposal.
“Do not create Office of Hearings in OGA,” the budget book reads. “Positions and funding levels are maintained in the Elections Enforcement Administration, Freedom of Information Commission, and Office of State Ethics.”
Carol Carson, executive director of the Office of State Ethics, said the decision helps maintain the independence of the watchdog agencies and takes care of the majority or her agency’s concerns.
Michael Brandi, head of the Elections Enforcement Commission echoed Carson’s sentiment, saying he knows the discussion of the budget isn’t over and he hopes they can maintain an open dialogue to maintain these changes.
As for the legislative commissions that represent minority populations, the committee also put the brakes on that Malloy proposal.
Malloy’s budget proposed consolidating the legislature’s commissions on women, African-Americans, Latinos, children, Asians, and the elderly to save about $800,000 annually. Additionally, Malloy wants to expand the mission of the commission to represent the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. The new agency would be called the Commission on Citizen Advocacy.
The committee’s budget does not consolidate the five legislative commissions and does not eliminate the Commission on Aging. It proposes spending $788,236 in the first year and $847,820 in the second year on the commissions.
The Finance Committee package isn’t due out until later this afternoon so it’s unclear exactly how the state will pay for the spending.