As part of their deficit mitigation bill passed this week, lawmakers called for 220 million dollars in spending cuts. Where that money will come from, however, was not spelled out in the bill.
When Democratic leaders in the legislature offered their plan for this latest round of spending cuts, they looked to savings in so-called off-budget accounts. These are pots of money that aren't in the state's general budget, and don't go through the Appropriations process.
Lawmakers said the legislature's nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis has found 200 million dollars of possible cuts in these accounts so far.
This is how House Speaker Chris Donovan described them: "There are little funds that were appropriated over the years, and they have little piggy banks."
Those piggy banks weren't broken open, though, until a day after the legislation passed. That's when Senate Democrats released the list that made up that 200 million.
More than quarter of it comes from the state's clean elections program. These public grants pay for candidates' campaigns, if they agree to certain restrictions on spending and fundraising. $8.5 million dollars has already been cut from the fund to close the deficit. Elections Enforcement Commission director Jeffrey Garfield says any more raids on the account would jeopardize the program for the 2010 elections.
"We're really at the tipping point right now, and that message has been sent."
In fact, Democratic leaders have twice resisted making deeper cuts to the fund proposed by the governor.
Another 11.8 million dollars identified by OFA pays for stem cell research. This state grant program just started distributing funding two years ago , and University of Connecticut researcher Marc Lalande says major cuts now would be extremely detrimental.
"Our researchers will leave because they will go to states that do have funding."
According to the state Department of Public Health, most of this research money has already been awarded in grants - it just hasn't been spent yet.
"If it affects current grants, that would be even more devastating. Those are the people who have ongoing research projects, and to stop them in midstream, that would be even worse, actually," says Lelande.
Among the other big-dollar accounts in the analysis are four funds administered by the Department of Environmental Protection. DEP Spokesman Dennis Schain says this money comes in part from a fee on motor vehicle registration.
"Our portion is used to administer various aspects of the federal Clean Air Act."
So, cuts here could bring up federal pollution compliance issues, as would cuts to a second air emissions fund. Schain says the other accounts hold settlements from lawsuits, or fund grants for land and historical preservation, and may have other strings attached.
"So not all money listed in funds controlled by DEP would necessarily be readily available for purposes of reducing the deficit," Schain says.
Altogether, these six funds add up to more than half of the 200 million in OFA's analysis. That office is still analyzing off-budget funds to find more that could legally be tapped. It is up to the Appropriations Committee to recommend a final list of cuts by March 25.