Rep. Abercrombie denounces Gov. Malloy's human service cuts; says she's open to a special session

CAFCA | October 07, 2015 |

A top Democrat on the legislature's appropriations committee on Wednesday blasted human services budget cuts ordered by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.  Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, a Democrat from Meriden, said lawmakers should meet to roll back the "devastating" $16 million in reductions to mental health treatment, substance abuse counseling, programs for people with developmental disabilities and other social service programs. "We can't balance the budget on people that are less fortunate than us,'' Abercrombie said during a press conference hosted by the Connecticut Community Providers Association and the Connecticut Association of Nonprofits.

 

"That's what these rescissions are doing,'' she said. "There are many of us in the legislature...that are very concerned about these cuts and I think it's time that we sit together with the governor and talk about what's appropriate to be cut here. These rescissions are not appropriate and many of my colleagues are saying the same thing. We need to sit in the room with the governor and try and figure this out.  "Instead of trimming human services spending, Abercrombie proposed cutting back on funding for Malloy's transportation initiative. "I'll be honest with you: I think one of the areas we have to look at is transportation. We put a lot of money in there and there's no plan in place, so those are dollars that we could use right now. Are you going to put transportation before families? I'm not...we are all looking at the budget and we think there are better cuts that can be made."

 

Abercrombie, co-chairwoman of the legislature's human services committee, is the first high-profile Democrat to publicly call for a special session. Republicans have been pressing for a special session ever since Malloy announced the cuts two weeks ago, but Democratic leaders have resisted, even though they have also been highly critical of the cuts.Asked if she backs a special legislative session to deal with the budget, Abercrombie said: "If we need to call for a special session, I think that's what we need to tell our leadership to do because this cannot go on anymore...we're hearing from the families about how devastating this is going to be."

 

"I'm probably going to be in the hot seat going against my leadership but you know what? I wasn't elected to just sit here and say 'this is ok' because it's not OK,'' Abercrombie said. 

Gabe Rosenberg, a spokesman for House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, said the Speaker shares Abercrombie's frustration about the impact of the cuts on families who rely on the state's human services safety net.

 

"There's no way you can hear those stories and not have your hearts go out to the people there,'' Rosenberg said. "You don't want to see any cuts in programs...no one's happy about any of this."

But Sharkey continues to believe it would be "not responsible" to convene the legislature at this point, Rosenberg said. "The speaker would like to work with Democratic leadership and the governor to figure out the best way to make cuts that have the least negative effect,'' he said.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders praised Abercrombie for "having the courage" to stand up to the governor and the Democratic leaders in the legislature.

 

"We hope that spirit of courage and hope becomes contagious,'' Rep. Themis Klarides and Sen. Len Fasano said in a joint statement. "If there are other Democrats who agree that we have to take action together to stand up for what is right, we invite them to sign a petition we will be circulating. If a majority of state lawmakers in each chamber signs this petition, we can trigger a special session. We can guarantee the signatures of every Republican lawmaker. It will be up to the Democrats to do their part.”

 

The Malloy administration, responding to a sharp downturn in the stock market and projections of lower tax revenue, ordered emergency spending cuts of $103 million. The bulk of the cuts--$63.4 million--took the form of reduced Medicaid payments to hospitals.

 

In a statement to the media following the press conference, Malloy spokesman Devon Puglia said: "Our hearts of course go out to the affected families. However, while we understand there is continued demand for service, it’s important to note that we spend about $1,100,000,000 per year. We have to make difficult decisions and do the fiscally responsible thing while planning for our long-term economic future."

 

Abercrombie noted that Malloy is well within his executive authority to make the cuts without seeking legislative approval. And she expressed sympathy for the governor's predicament. 

"I do want to say the governor is in a very difficult position and he does have this authority for these rescissions,'' Abercrombie said. But, she added, "my role as a policy maker and a legislator is, I'm supposed to protect my constituents and these cuts don't protect my constituents. I can't stand here and say I'm in favor of these rescissions.

 

Abercrombie said lawmakers need to play a more forceful role in budgetary decisions. "We are three branches of government and we need to be included in trying to figure this out,'' she said. "And I don't believe, at this point, we are being an equal partner...let me say it that way.''