There’s not a whole lot of wiggle room in the state budget, according to the Office of Fiscal Analysis.
The non-partisan OFA projects funding deficiencies of $65.2 million shortfall in the General Fund and $1.3 million in the Transportation Fund.
“The State Agency Deficiencies are indeed troubling, but I think there are a few things to keep in mind here,” said state Rep. James Albis, a Democrat representing East Haven in the 99th House District.
Albis pointed to a Nov. 15 OFA report projecting a $101.2 million General Fund surplus, which the legislature could use to cover any agency deficiencies. In addition, the estimated $66.5 million deficiency is one-third of one percent (0.35%) of the annual $18.7 billion state budget.
Ben Barnes, Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, appreciates the concern but said the deficiencies are small.
“I’m confident we will reverse that and finish the year in balance and under the spending cap,” Barnes said.
Albis also said it’s important to remember the Governor recently indicated he won’t refill 2,300 state positions that have been vacated, as a money-saving measure. Lastly, Albis said agencies are on notice to find ways to save money and make their departments run more efficiently, and are currently in the process of doing so.
None of this is enough to persuade state Sen. Joe Markley, a Republican representing towns in the 16th Senate District, including Cheshire.
“I'm concerned that we might bump up against the constitutional spending cap if agency expenses continue to run higher than anticipated,” Markley said. “We didn't fix our problems last session -- we papered them over with a mammoth tax increase, but we didn't tackle the overspending which is the real challenge.”
'A SINKHOLE STATE'
The Institute for Truth in Accounting, IFTA, called Connecticut a "Sinkhole" state.
The non-partisan agency said The Nutmeg State is one of five states in the worst financial position in the country. According to IFTA, while Connecticut has $29.4 billion worth of assets, only $10.1 billion are available to pay $63.4 billion of bills as they come due. IFTA also said each taxpayer's financial burden is $41,200.
“It’s a point well taken, and I certainly can’t deny that Connecticut faces some financial challenges,” Barnes said.
However, Barnes said the report doesn't recognize changes made to how Connecticut structures its budget, such as GAAP, or Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.
Markley wasn’t surprised by IFTA’s report.
"It's an accepted fact that we have the highest debt per capita of any state in the nation. Of all the challenges Connecticut faces today, that might be the most alarming, and discouraging,” Markley said. “We can't keep raising taxes -- our economy can't stand it: we must cut government spending. The sooner we recognize that, and the more seriously we approach it, the better for all of us.”
“Yesterday’s report was one point on a very long line. It’s still too early to draw any conclusions, though I will note that the state budget is still on track to end the fiscal year with a $101 million surplus, according to OFA,” said Lawrence Cook, spokesman for the Senate Democrats.