- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Groups that provide behavioral health and development disability services, as well as the clients and their families, voiced concern Tuesday that cuts to community-based programs could be revisited to help scale back business tax increases criticized by some major Connecticut employers.

Heather Gates, president and CEO of Community Health Resources Inc., called it “shocking and devastating” that millions in cuts could now be back on the table.

“The need has not changed in 13 days,” she said, referring to when the General Assembly passed a two-year, $40.3 billion budget agreement reached between the Democratic legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration. That deal replenished many of the cuts Malloy had originally proposed in February.

“If the budget is cut further, it will directly impact the very programs and services that were preserved in the recent budget agreement,” said Gates, adding how her agency, which serves clients in central and eastern Connecticut, will have to revisit plans to close one clinic that serves 1,000 children, families and adults for mental illness and substance abuse disorders, while reducing admissions at other clinics. She urged state legislators not to change the budget they already passed.

On Friday, Malloy unveiled a plan to scrap about $224 million of the $1.5 billion in tax increases included in the budget bill, which he has yet to sign. To cover the lost revenue, Malloy asked the General Assembly to grant him authority to reduce state spending up to 1.5 percent across the board. He said he’s also open to allowing the legislature to make the eleventh-hour cuts.

Malloy’s announcement came after two major employers, General Electric Co. and Aetna Inc., threatened to leave the state because of the additional tax burden. Other employers, both large and small, also voiced unusual public criticism of the state budget, claiming it worsened Connecticut’s competitiveness with other states.

“The bottom line is this: the governor is leading,” said Devon Puglia, the governor’s spokesman. “He’s heard from communities across the state - including those affected by the cuts - but he must be a leader for all of Connecticut and its economic future.”

Puglia said the Malloy administration sympathizes with the human service advocates and clients and was “happy to restore some of their funding.” But Puglia said “difficult, often unpopular decisions have to be made.”

Malloy’s so-called budget improvement plan has been met with mostly positive reactions from businesses. The Hartford insurance company on Monday voiced support for Malloy’s proposal to scale back planned tax increases on computer, data processing and Web services, capping them at the current 1 percent.

But Dr. Michelle Rivelli of West Hartford, who has a 20-year-old daughter with autism and requires 24-hour supervision, called it “morally indefensible” for Malloy to allow corporations to dictate state budget decisions and for him to “use that as an excuse to supersede the conscientious decision” of the legislature to fund human service programs.

Lawmakers are supposed to meet in a special session to vote on budget-related bills and possibly take up Malloy’s plan. No date has been announced.

Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said Democrats, who control the General Assembly, “haven’t reached any conclusions yet” about Malloy’s proposal. He said lawmakers were reviewing a breakdown provided by Malloy’s budget office outlining how a 1.5 percent across-the-board cut would affect state agencies. A document provided by the Office of Policy and Management shows certain spending categories would be exempted from Malloy’s proposed cut, including personnel costs. There were, however, reductions to behavioral health services, housing supports, community residential services and other programs.

Looney appeared reticent to make more cuts to human services after replenishing many of Malloy’s original reductions.

“We can’t just jettison the concerns of these needy people because some business complained after the fact,” Looney said. “There’s an equation that has to be balanced.”

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