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Friday, June 27, 2008

Child advocates decry cuts for poor

By Mary E. O’Leary
Register Topics Editor
NEW HAVEN
— Child advocates question Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s decision to order budget cuts to support services for the poor and to not tap the $1.4 billion Rainy Day Fund as the state looks to forestall a projected deficit next year.
Shelley Geballe of Connecticut Voices for Children said the point of the Rainy Day Fund is "to insulate the state from these kinds of economic swings," which are cyclical. She said service cuts are "terribly disruptive and very inefficient."
Rell ordered cuts of 3 and 5 percent at state agencies to offset an estimated $150 million deficit projected for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The governor has said ordering cuts was not easy, but like decisions being made by families across the state, they are necessary.
"I have tried to make sure that agencies with the greatest public safety or human services roles have borne the smallest cuts. The essential work of government will continue and we will get by, just like our families," Rell said.
Geballe said the $1.9 million cut in Temporary Assistance to Families and the $5.7 million cut to State Administered General Assistance is shortsighted. "We don’t want to make cuts that will leave the poor destitute," she said.
She was critical of education cuts, criminal justice cuts and cuts at the Department of Children and Families, among others.
"Connecticut has a Rainy Day Fund for times just like this, when the economy is faltering, revenues are slipping, but the need for state and local services is at a high," Geballe said. "If we don’t use the Rainy Day Fund when it starts to rain, what is the point of having it?" she asked.
Rich Harris, spokesman for Rell, said even after the cuts, 95 percent of the budget remains intact.
"States all around us and all over the country are facing deficits in the billions of dollars. Connecticut is not — and Gov. Rell intends to do everything she can to make sure it stays that way," Harris said.
Democratic leaders and Rell ended this legislative session without changing the second year of the state’s biennial budget, leaving those decisions to the governor.
Geballe, in an analysis of the state’s ability to raise revenues, suggests "Connecticut is living well ‘below’ its means, relative to other states" as it ranks third lowest (48th) in terms of state and local taxes as a percentage of personal income.
She criticized the state for being one of four in the country that spends a greater proportion of its General Fund budgets on it corrections system than it invests in higher education, according to a study by the Pew Center on the States.
Last year, for every $1 of the fund spent on higher education, $1.03 was spent on corrections, a big change from 20 years ago when Connecticut spent 35 cents on corrections for every $1 on higher education. While the prison population in the state grew 61 percent between 1993 and 2007, the number of full-time equivalent students attending its public colleges and universities grew by 26 percent.
Geballe said cuts to education are counterproductive, particularly given the large achievement gap along racial lines. Connecticut continues to fall behind in its ability to attract businesses and retain a skilled work force, she said.
Mary E. O’Leary can be reached at 789-5731 or moleary@nhregister.com.

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