According to Governor Malloy and his administration, the State of Connecticut is on target to end this Fiscal Year (FY14) with a $506.1 million surplus.
Malloy administration officials are so excited about the notion of a budget surplus that they are talking about proposing a targeted election year tax cut to win over middle-class voters even though the state faces a projected $3.2 billion combined deficit over the three fiscal years following this year’s election.
Governor Malloy would have the public believe that this year’s developing surplus is a result of his good management of Connecticut’s state budget.
However, the way Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly played with State Account 35416 is a prime example of the type of budget gimmicks that were used to help create this year’s projected “surplus.”
Here is how it played out:
Just a month after the 2012 general election, the Governor called the outgoing members of the Connecticut General Assembly into a special session to address a projected budget deficit in the Fiscal Year 2013 State Budget.
With the passage of “AN ACT CONCERNING DEFICIT MITIGATION FOR THE FISCAL YEAR ENDING JUNE 30, 2013,” the General Assembly passed Malloy’s Deficit Reduction Plan. The bill passed the State Senate 31-3 and passed the State House of Representatives 140-3. Democrats and Republicans joined together to overwhelming pass the bill.
As part of Malloy’s lengthy bill was the following language;
“Notwithstanding the provisions of section 14-50b of the general statutes, the sum of $ 4,700,000 shall be transferred from the school bus seat belt account established in said section 14-50b and credited to the resources of the General Fund for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013.”
The money shifted $4.7 million from the School Bus Seat Belt Account to the General Fund. (More on this fund in a moment).
As result of the deficit mitigation bill and some improved revenue, Fiscal Year 13 didn’t end with a deficit, it ended with a $398.79 million surplus. Of that amount nearly $200 million was “re-defined” as “future revenue” and shows up in this year’s budget…helping to ensure a budget surplus.
Even though Fiscal Year 2013 ended with a surplus, the $4.7 million was never returned to the School Bus Seat Belt Account (#35416). As of now, that fund has only about $1 million in it.
So what is the School Bus Seat Belt Account (#35416)?
Long time Wait, What? readers may remember a post when Malloy’s deficit mitigation bill passed in December 2012. It was entitled, “Remember when school bus seatbelts were a big priority?”
The December 20, 2012 Wait, What? post read something like this:
Remember when school bus seatbelts were a big priority?
Aka: No that was then, this is now…
Following the January 2010 tragic school bus accident on Route 84 in Hartford that killed a Rocky Hill student who was attending one of the CREC magnet schools, the legislature kicked into action.
On May 1 of that year the General Assembly passed what was to become Public Act 10-83.
The law created the Connecticut School Bus Seat Belt account, “a separate non-lapsing account in the General Fund” and required that the funds be used to help school districts pay for the cost of equipping school buses with lap/shoulder (3-point) seat belts.
To pay for the program, the Legislature increased the cost associated with restoring a suspended driver’s license from $125 to $ 175. The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated the higher fee would raise about $2.1 million a year.
Fast forward two and a half years…and the fund now contains $4.7 million.
Yesterday, as part of the deficit mitigation bill, the Governor and General Assembly passed language overriding the previous law and transferring the $4,700,000 from the School Bus Seat Belt account into the General Fund…
Gone is the money for school seat belts.
That tragedy was yesterday’s news.
And besides, who would remember that the account in question grew out of the concern that elected officials had for the safety of our children.
The tale of how the government raided the fund that was supposed to be used to install seat belts on school buses is a sad and shocking reminder that while it may be true that state of Connecticut presently “enjoys” a surplus, things are not always what they seem.