02/29/2016

Budget cuts threaten public safety in Connecticut

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AFT Connecticut has called on state policymakers to adopt more sensible approaches to state spending rather than eliminating the jobs of thousands of public employees who protect public safety and health.

Working families relying on public services, from domestic violence intervention to mental health programs, should not be the only ones who sacrifice to balance the state budget—especially when viable alternatives exist, AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel told members of the state finance committee Feb. 26. A budget submitted by Gov. Dannel Malloy is unfair, she said, and needs to be developed in a more collaborative and transparent way.

Jan Hochadel"If attacking working people and cutting services—while refusing to raise taxes on the wealthy—actually worked to improve the economy and grow jobs, why have the economies of Kansas and Wisconsin struggled?" Hochadel asked the committee. "Why has Minnesota, which raised taxes on the wealthy and maintained services, seen its economy grow?"

The AFT and AFT Connecticut have called on the governor and state lawmakers to ask the richest residents to pay their fair share of taxes to avert budget cuts that would hurt families statewide. "Connecticut doesn't have a budget problem. Connecticut has a fairness problem," says a full-page ad that ran in the Hartford Courant, purchased in February by the AFT and AFT Connecticut.

If the state's wealthiest individuals and corporations paid their fair share of taxes, drastic cuts could be averted. Connecticut's richest 1 percent pay 5.3 percent in state and local taxes, while its public employees, like other working and middle-class families, pay almost 10 percent, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy and the Economic Policy Institute.

For state employees, Malloy's proposal to cut several thousand full-time workers would affect corrections and law enforcement, health and social services, forensics, maintenance and other service work.

"We have sacrificed at more than 30 times the rate that millionaires have sacrificed to balance the budget," Hochadel testified, "and we pay taxes at twice the rate they do. Everyone should pay their fair share."

On education, Malloy's proposal would freeze state spending and eliminate funding for adult education and early literacy programs, cut grant funding for after-school programs, and cut support for school-based health centers. Programs employing many of the 1,200 members of the State Vocational Federation of Teachers already have been cut by $1.5 million, resulting in many unfilled positions and layoffs. An additional 5.7 percent proposed cut could mean closing schools.

Carmen RodaOn higher education, the budget would slash millions of dollars from the University of Connecticut, including teaching staff and the health center, which is plagued by nurse shortages.

Carmen Roda, president of the AFT-affiliated Judicial Professional Employees, is concerned about the ramifications of closing two prisons and eliminating the jobs of juvenile and adult probation officers and those who support 53,000 probationers and others under community supervision as well as tens of thousands under pretrial supervision. Until now, rates of re-arrest in Connecticut have been dropping at record rates, Roda says, adding his fear that cuts would "have adverse effects on all branches of our service." (Read Roda's Feb. 19 testimony in front of the appropriations committee.)

Like the state federation president, Roda points out that collaboration is key to reasonable, long-term budget solutions. "I hope the governor will be smart enough to realize that if you want people to be part of the solution, you have to talk to them first. We're not the problem," he says. "We lived up to our part of the bargain, and we can't make up for the governor's checkbook problem."

[Annette Licitra/Matt O'Connor photos]