Gates not certain mental health or behavioral health services won’t be cut in the future

December 09, 2015

Lawmakers Erase $350M Budget Shortfall, Mostly Along Party Lines
by Christine Stuart

For the first time in three years, Republican lawmakers had a seat at the budget negotiating table. But in the end they just couldn’t find enough agreement to support a package that cuts $350 million from the 2016 state budget.

Democratic legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy were able to reach an agreement to reduce state spending and change some business taxes. But it wasn’t an easy sell to rank-and-file lawmakers. Staff spent most of the day Tuesday explaining the 112-page bill to try and win their support.

When the dust cleared Tuesday night, Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, was the only Democrat to vote against the budget in the Senate. She was joined by two Democratic lawmakers in the House — Reps. David Alexander, D-Enfield, and John Hampton, D-Simsbury.

The Senate approved the bill 20-15. The House approved it 75-65.

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, had some harsh words for Republican lawmakers following the vote.

“Republicans walked away because they were unwilling to compromise and insisted on trying to shut down our government until they got their way,” Sharkey said. “As a result, Republicans voted against restoring hospital funding and tax changes to encourage GE and other Connecticut businesses to grow here. After demanding to be given the opportunity to help lead, Republicans showed they were not up to the challenge.”

Meanwhile, Malloy maintained a bipartisan attitude about what happened Tuesday even though the package received no Republican votes.

“While we couldn’t achieve a bipartisan vote, we had a bipartisan process to lead us to the vote tonight,” Malloy said. “I appreciate the willingness of Democrats and Republicans to engage in this important discussion, one that I hope will continue in the months and years ahead. The legislation passed tonight is not perfect, but it helps make progress for the State of Connecticut this fiscal year and beyond.”

Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, who is the longest-serving lawmaker in the House, said she’s “lukewarm” in her support for the package. Her comment summed up the feeling of several lawmakers who eventually supported the deficit mitigation plan, which restored $30 million of the $63 million Malloy unilaterally cut from hospitals in September.

The deficit mitigation plan also restored most of the cuts to the Departments of Mental Health and Addiction Services and Developmental Services.

Heather Gates, CEO of Community Health Resources, said nonprofit providers are happy today about the restoration of the funding, but they’re concerned about the broad unilateral authority the deficit mitigation plan gives to the governor. Malloy’s administration still has the power to cut up to $93 million from the current budget.

Gates said she’s not certain mental health or behavioral health services won’t be cut in the future as a result of that language.

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