It's been a fascinating few days watching the Governor, lawmakers, unions and state agencies dance around the new two-year budget. Of course, this year's budget address is more than just a new tax & spend plan for the state. It comes in the middle of a national recession, as we wait for billions in federal stimulus money, and with a gaping chasm between the state's revenues and it's budget.
The big issue for us in covering this unfolding story: How big the chasm? The independent office of fiscal analysis puts it at $8.7 billion dollars, Governor Rell's budget closes just a $6 billion gap. This was the main thrust of our conversation today, with Budget Director Bob Genuario, Senate President Don Williams, and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney.
More Coverage Notes
- Anna Sale's story pulls out the trouble with these numbers, along with the planned axing of 23 commissions, the raising of fees, and "mandate relief."
- On Morning Edition, Ray Hardman talked with the guy who'll be trying to "appropriate" all this money - committee chair John Geragosian. He basically told us that lawmakers will need to "start from scratch" after the Governor's budget.
- Courant Business Editor Dan Haar wonders if the plan bites off more than it can chew, by trying to "reinvent government" at a time when big cuts are needed.
- Christine Stuart of ctnewsjunkie.com (fresh off a nice shout-out on NPR today in a story about the Courant) has a few different takes on the budget. I especially like her cost-savings tally after counting up the 10 axed or morphed state agencies. A whopping $8.25 million next year...ah yes, the "bloat of bureaucracy" in action!
- And, of course, we turned to budget guru Keith Phaneuf from the Journal Inquirer to help us sift through the details, and to ask tough questions of the budget chief on today's show. Here's one of the several articles he put out in the last day, detailing how some criminal justice plans will be put on hold in Rell's plan.
- It must be said that some folks really found some things to like in the Governor's speech. Michael Daly of the Connecticut Post writes about the gushing reaction from Democratic big city mayors and other officials after Rell announced continued aid to cities and towns. And WNPR's Nancy Cohen reports that Rell's "21st Century Bottle Bill" might be the winner in a long struggle over recycling and reclaiming nickels.
Finally, it seems like just last week (oh yeah, it was) that Healthcare Advocate Kevin Lembo was helping us sift through the tricky world of Health Savings Accounts, and leading listening sessions with Senator Dodd on residents healthcare concerns.
Clearly, this public outreach was not enough for the Governor, who zeroed out his department in the budget - despite the fact that it's actually funded by the health care industry, meaning such a cut wouldn't really save us any money.
In political speeches, words like "shared sacrifice" are meant to rally support for "tough choices." But in a world where millions of Americans, and tens of thousands of Connecticut residents have no health care, can we truly make this statement about a Healthcare Advocate: "In times of plenty they are helpful. In times such as these they are unaffordable."
Such times indeed.