The news was bleak on Wednesday when Gov. M. Jodi Rell delivered her budget.
Rell presented her plan to a joint session of the Democratic-controlled General Assembly. Her budget eliminates more than 400 state jobs, and more through attrition. She's also calling for the elimination of 23 state commissions.
“Simply put: The bloat of bureaucracy is no longer affordable. Over the years, over the decades, state government often lost sight of what its core mission was and who it was serving.”
At the same time, Rell's budget does plan to spend:
“For the short term, I am setting aside $7.5 million in the budget to bring back an old idea – one that dates back to the Depression, one in which my own father participated: the CCC, or Civilian Conservation Corps.”
Major changes, according to Gov. Rell and the state budget office:
- 400 state jobs eliminated, plus a number of unfilled jobs will disappear;
- eliminates 23 state commissions;
- seeks $275 million in labor union concessions;
- no taxes will be raised in the next two years;
- no cuts in the major education grant to cities and towns;
- 5 percent cut to higher education funding;
- construction projects at UConn and public colleges will be delayed for a year;
- no "sales tax"-free week;
- there will be caps on filmmaker tax credits;
- increased licensing fees;
- bad drivers will be charged a surcharge;
- courthouses in Meriden and Bristol will close;
- Troop W's 18 troopers will be on regular patrol;
- bottle bill will expand to include water bottles;
- state will collect all deposits rather than let retailers keep what isn't given out.
"It is a budget that sets a fundamentally new vision for state government," she said. "A smaller government. A less expensive government. A more efficient government. And most importantly, a government that is more in line with what you, our taxpayers, can afford."
Rell and state lawmakers are being pressured not to cut state services as they try to bridge a budget deficit that could exceed $8 billion over the next two years.
Leaders of the legislature's Democratic majority, which has enough members in both the House and Senate to override vetoes, are questioning whether it's possible to avoid tax increases with such a large deficit.
House Speaker Christopher Donovan and Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams Jr. said they are willing, however, to withhold judgment until they see details of Rell's budget proposal.
Donovan said earlier this week that lawmakers are already looking into ending tax loopholes and other concepts to deal with the deficit.
State Labor Unions are urging the governor and legislature to not cut state services.
The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which represents the 13 state employee unions, sent Rell and legislative leaders a letter on Tuesday saying they are willing to find savings but want public services protected.
Representatives of Rell's administration have already met privately three times with SEBAC, discussing possible labor concessions. More meetings are planned.
Rell does plan to propose some new spending -- $7.5 million to create the new Connecticut Civilian Conservation Corps for the state's growing unemployed, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The new program would be mirrored after one created during the Great Depression to help young men find work. Connecticut's unemployment rate is about 7 percent.
Eligible men and women would earn wages while working on state and local public works projects such as clearing trails and cleaning parks, beaches and polluted properties. Some could work on projects funded by the expected federal stimulus money the state will receive.
Congressional analysts estimate Connecticut would get an extra $1.8 billion in federal grants from the economic stimulus package now being debated in Congress.
An analysis by the House Appropriations Committee says the money would include $1.16 billion for infrastructure improvements including highway, bridge and sewer construction, and $403 million for school renovations, Pell grants and other education programs.
“Make no mistake, our journey will be a long and painful one,” Rell said on Wednesday. “But it will be a shared journey.”