- Associated Press - Thursday, February 19, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut lawmakers intend to make changes, possibly substantial ones, to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed two-year, $40 billion budget plan as a wide range of criticisms mounted Thursday.

A day after Malloy unveiled his plan, both Democratic and Republican members of the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee complained about numerous recommended spending cuts and policy changes. The list included $100 million in cuts to UConn, hospital tax changes, a proposal requiring small communities to pick up the full cost of resident state troopers, reductions in home health care services for the elderly and a 25 percent cut to state parks.

“I’m very disappointed in many pieces and parts of this budget,” said. Rep. Linda Orange, D-Colchester, voicing concerns about the fate of state programs for people with special needs. “There’s a lot wrong that I think that this legislature is really going to have to look closely into.”

Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden, co-chairman of the legislature’s Human Services Committee, appeared stunned by Malloy’s recommended changes to health services for the poor.

“From the human services point of view, all I can say is, ‘wow,’” she said.

Malloy’s budget director, Ben Barnes, explained how Malloy, a Democrat, had to present a balanced, two-year budget that covered a projected deficit of more than $1 billion in each year. That deficit, Barnes said, was driven by a combination of trends, including growing state employee retirement costs, social service caseload growth and increasing health care costs. Yet, Barnes appeared open to negotiating changes in the coming months, as the administration and legislature reach an ultimate budget compromise before this session’s June adjournment.

“We have proposed many cuts we wish we did not have to make and we hope we ultimately will not have to make,” Barnes said.

Various special interest groups registered their discontent with Malloy’s budget minutes after his address to a joint session of the General Assembly.

Heather Gates, CEO of Community Health Resources, a nonprofit agency that provides mental health and addiction services in central and eastern Connecticut, called the $25 million in proposed cuts to the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services “very problematic” for organizations like hers.

“That means that those of us who are serving adults with serious mental illness and serious addiction disorders are going to have to reduce access to outpatient services,” she said, adding how those are services in the community that help people avoid being hospitalized, becoming homeless or ending up in jail.

Joe Brennan, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said he hopes lawmakers roll back Malloy’s business tax proposals.

“In our mind, it really does strike a blow to business confidence,” he said, adding how Malloy’s plan to temporarily limit the use of certain tax credits could discourage business investment in Connecticut. “We’ve got several hundred million dollars in new costs on job creators. … We don’t think we should be inhibiting investment right now. We should be encouraging investment.”

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said Wednesday he sees Malloy’s budget proposal as a starting point for lawmakers.

“I think we’re going to have to do most of the work in terms of re-crafting a lot of the details of the budget that was presented to us. And the governor acknowledged in his speech today that he’s totally open to that,” said Sharkey. “I think the budget will be much different in its final version than it is today.”

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