Connecticut media are abuzz today with reports that Gov. Dannel Malloy’s “Plan B” to dealing with historic deficits ($1 billion in concessions from public-sector workers) may be cutting $1 billion in state aid to Connecticut’s cities and towns.
The question is whether this is another case of Malloy’s psychological warfare to demonize Connecticut’s state employees or a political gimmick gone bad.
For an administration that can’t get out of campaign mode, the evidence actually suggests the latter.
The Associated Press reports that, “Connecticut cities and towns would lose one-third of their state aid under a contingency plan Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has requested in case there is no agreement on $1 billion in union savings and concessions to help balance his budget.”
The Malloy administration has even created a list that reduces every local government’s state aid by 35.83 percent.
However, when the Connecticut Post asked Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s chief advisor, about the $1 billion cut-list (which was leaked to the Post on Tuesday), he said it was developed in response to complaints about why Malloy hadn’t balanced Connecticut’s budget without raising taxes.
Occhiogrosso said cutting $1 billion in aid to cities and towns would be like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to cut $4.65 billion in aid to New York’s cities and towns. Occhiogrosso pointed out that the cut-list’s town-by-town breakdown indicates just how devastating a $1 billion cut would be.
Meanwhile, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, the state’s primary lobbying arm for local governments (and an organization that Malloy once chaired) called the plan a “doomsday budget.” It said: “A billion-dollar cut in municipal aid will result in massive municipal employee and teacher layoffs across the state."
Yet later that same day (Tuesday), the governor’s office was handing out the $1 billion breakdown to reporters and Occhiogrosso was saying to Associated Press and others that "There are only so many places where you can go to get large sums of money to get to $1 billion, if that number is not reached in discussions with labor … Municipal aid is certainly one of those places. It represents a large portion of the budget."
Occhiogrosso added "There are different scenarios being looked at — municipal aid, reduction in state agencies' (budgets), several different scenarios. The governor's been pretty clear that one thing will not happen. Taxes will not rise beyond what he has already proposed ... Everything else is on the table."
So what exactly is this “doomsday budget”?
Is it a document designed to explain Malloy’s decision not to use Cuomo’s approach. Or is it a genuine plan to destroy every town’s local budget and local school system if state employees are unable to come up with the unachievable $1 billion in concessions.
Either way, it is a maneuver more in line with a political campaign than the thoughtful approach of a chief executive.
For me, the primary clue to what is going down is that Malloy’s town-by-town breakdown does not differentiate between towns that could survive a massive cut in aid and those that could not. Whomever authorized this list decided to simply cut 35.83 percent from every town. No reasonable policymaker, especially no Democrat, would ever propose cutting municipal aid by the same percent in every town.
The fact is a cut in municipal aid of more than a third to a town like Greenwich, with its extraordinary tax base and limited municipal demands, would create far less damage than a similar cut to a city like Hartford or Bridgeport.
It is more than far-fetched to think that this $1 billion cut-list could really be part of Malloy’s “Plan B”.
The Malloy people would do themselves and the state a big favor by developing a “real” Plan B if they can’t squeeze the billion from the state’s employees.