Connecticut governor says budget filled with ‘tough choices’

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy unveiled a two-year, nearly $40 billion state budget Wednesday that he said is “filled with tough choices” but includes a major overhaul of the state’s aging transportation system.

While acknowledging the state’s economy continues to recover, Malloy told a joint session of the General Assembly that “significant investment” is still needed to improve highways, bridges and rail over the next three decades to improve economic development and quality of life.

“Connecticut’s economic future and our ability to grow jobs are tied directly to the condition of our roads, bridges, ports, buses and rails, even to our walkways and bikeways,” he said.

Malloy’s budget includes funding for a five-year “ramp-up” of engineering and design work for some key highway projects, including Hartford’s Interstate 84 viaduct and the Waterbury mix-master. However, the governor is leaving it up to the Democrat-controlled legislature to come up with a funding mechanism by 2018, such as tolls or user fees. But Malloy’s budget director, Ben Barnes, warned reporters earlier in the day that resurrecting tolls in Connecticut won’t raise enough revenue.

“There are a number of revenues that could be used to fill that hole,” Barnes said. “We look forward to having that discussion.”

Malloy’s budget will be a framework for budget negotiations with the legislature over the coming months. Some proposals have already been opposed.

For example, AARP Connecticut voiced concerns about Malloy’s proposal to shift more of the cost of home care onto senior citizens.

“State legislators have repeatedly rejected similar proposals in the past because it’s been proven that increasing the cost-share doesn’t save the state money in the long run, and has the potential to harm the health and well-being of our state’s most frail and vulnerable seniors,” said Claudio Gualtieri, AARP Connecticut state advocacy director.

Malloy stressed that while his plan includes more than $590 million in spending cuts, it does maintain current levels of state aid to cities and towns for public education.

Malloy’s budget boosts spending by approximately 3 percent each year. Barnes said those increases are driven by state employee retirement costs and pay raises, debt payments and growth in social service caseloads, among other expenses. There are no state employee layoffs or early retirement offers in Malloy’s plan.

However, the budget proposal does put the brakes on state hiring. Barnes said about 300 to 400 open positions in higher education and the executive branch will be not be filled this year under Malloy’s proposal. He called it an “aggressive hiring lapse.”

Barnes said he expects overall staff levels in executive branch agencies to be reduced by about 1 or 2 percent of the workforce by attrition.

Malloy crafted this budget amid projections of $1 billion deficits each year. Barnes said the plan is balanced by spending cuts, $36 million in anticipated revenue from a legal settlement and transfers from various funds. The plan does include some tax changes, including an eventual reduction in the current 6.35 percent retail sales tax rate to 5.95 percent. However, much of that change is funded through the elimination of various tax credit exemptions, including the exemption on up to $50 of clothing.

Source Article from http://finance.yahoo.com/news/connecticut-governor-says-budget-filled-172117939.html

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