In the real world, a budget deficit occurs when a government’s expenditures exceed the revenue that it generates.
According to Connecticut state law, if the State Comptroller projects that the budget deficit exceeds 1 percent of the state budget ($174.6 million), the Governor MUST immediately develop a Budget Mitigation Plan and submit it to the Connecticut General Assembly for review and approval.
As Wait, What? readers will recall the one true constant during the 2014 gubernatorial campaign was Governor Dannel Malloy’s claim that there was no state budget deficit this year, nor would there be one. Period, end of story.
State law also requires the Office of Policy and Management to provide the State Comptroller, on the 20th of each month, a letter outlining any projected revenue shortfalls or areas where the executive branch is spending more than what was budgeted for a given line-item or program.
During the entire campaign, Malloy repeatedly said that there was no state budget deficit and ten days before Election Day, Malloy’s Budget Director, Ben Barnes, made the incredulous claim that the Malloy administration was not overspending on a single line- item or program. Barnes reiterated that the State of Connecticut did not have, nor would it have a budget deficit.
At the time, a CT Mirror story written by Connecticut’s leading budget reporter, Keith Phaneuf, led with the headline, “Malloy boldly projects perfection in last budget update before election.”
As Phaneuf reported at the time,
It’s came as no surprise this week when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration reported the state budget was in balance.
What was far more surprising, though, was the added assertion there are no signs of cost overruns in any of the dozens of agencies supported by this year’s $19 billion budget.
For the first time in at least nine years, an administration reported no “deficiencies” that need to be tracked thus far into the fiscal year – a claim that Malloy’s critics attacked as extreme political spin in the final days of the campaign.
Within days, Connecticut’s independent, non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis identified a series of areas where the state was overspending, but with the Democrat’s Get-Out-The-Vote operation already underway, the Malloy administration dismissed the information and continued to claim that there was no state budget deficit.
Then, just ten days after Election Day, the state deficit “began to appear.”
However, the Malloy administration continued to downplay the situation in an effort to persuade the State Comptroller to say that the projected state deficit did not exceed the 1 percent trigger, which would have required Governor Malloy to develop and submit a comprehensive Deficit Mitigation Plan.
Now, ninety days after Election Day, the information provided by the independent, non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis reveals that the real State Budget deficit was more than $225 million, well in excess of the $174.6 million Deficit Mitigation Level.
And yet Governor Malloy and his administration never submitted a Deficit Mitigation Plan because the State Comptroller never determined that the trigger level had been met.
The scheme allowed the Malloy administration to continue their ongoing effort to mislead the General Assembly, the citizens of Connecticut and the media.
How did this happen?
Over the last three months, the Office of Policy and Management submitted their legally required letter to the State Comptroller on the state of Connecticut’s financial situation, but each month the Malloy administration provided misleading or false information.
Despite reports issued on November 20, 2014, December 20, 2014 and January 20, 2015, Malloy’s budget directer refused to come clean and properly identify where spending had exceeded budgeted levels.
And this week, the fiscal and political situation surrounding Connecticut’s growing budget crisis went from bad to worse.
In an article this past Monday entitled, Lembo backs Malloy’s assessment of smaller CT deficit, the CT Mirror’s Keith Phaneuf reported;
State Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo gave Gov. Dannel P. Malloy a big vote of fiscal confidence Monday, agreeing that Connecticut’s budget deficit is well below the emergency level.
The $89.4 million shortfall Lembo reported not only represents roughly half the amount that would compel Malloy to issue a deficit-mitigation plan, but also falls at least $80 million below the deficit projection of the legislature’s nonpartisan analysts.
State Comptroller Kevin Lembo based his decision on the belief that the Malloy administration could achieve the full savings from the first two rounds of emergency recessions (budget cuts) that had already been announced, but as Phaneuf noted in his article, the Malloy administration’s track record on actually achieving savings during the appropriate fiscal year is dismal.
Of even greater concern is the fact that the Malloy administration is still failing to admit that there are key budget areas where the state is dramatically overspending the amount that was actually budgeted for those activities.
As Phaneuf fully explains in his piece,
“the prospect of a deficit-mitigation plan loomed larger one week ago when the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis pegged this year’s shortfall much larger, at $202.5 million.
Even after applying the full effects of the governor’s emergency cuts, the deficit – according to OFA – would have stood at just under $171 million.”
But Governor Malloy was, once again, allowed to duck his legal responsibility to develop a Deficit Mitigation Plan for Connecticut when the State Comptroller decided to accept the Malloy administration’s inaccurate reports about overspending, while disregarding the Office of Fiscal Analysis’ observation that Malloy would not be able to achieve all of the savings that he claimed from the first two rounds of emergency cuts.
In particular, as Phaneuf noted, “According to nonpartisan analysts, cost-overruns involving Medicaid and magnet schools are worse than the administration estimates. And a potential surplus in the debt service account is not as large as Malloy’s staff projects.”
Although Lembo’s latest action saves Malloy from having to develop a comprehensive Deficit Mitigation Plan, Lembo used his most recent report to observe that, “No one should see this as an all-clear sign…We need to continue to watch spending, to continue to watch revenue as it comes in.”
However, those remarks were hardly enough to keep Republican legislators from charging that the Democrats had circled the wagons in order to protect Malloy’s political strategy of refusing to tell the truth about Connecticut’s fiscal problems.
In a follow up story in yesterday’s CT Mirror entitled, “GOP says Lembo ignored deficit to shield Malloy,” Keith Phaneuf reported that,
“Republican legislators were surprised Monday when Lembo not only accepted the administration’s $121 million deficit projection, but also assumed the $31.6 million in emergency cuts would involve no duplication.
Lembo, who reported a deficit projection of $89.4 million, did not reject the concerns raised by legislative analysts, but noted that the administration has a strong track record of meeting savings targets built into past budgets.
But legislative analysts, who finished their review of the governor’s latest cuts, concluded they only effectively saved the state about $20 million.
More importantly, OFA said the deficit actually stands at $182.3 million. That’s $7.7 million above the level that triggers a formal gubernatorial plan to balance the books, and $92 million worse than Lembo’s estimate.”
While Malloy, Lembo and the Republicans spar over the particular numbers, one thing is absolutely clear.
In the days leading up to Election Day, Governor Malloy and his budget director consistently claimed that there was not budget deficit, that there would be no budget deficit and that the Malloy administration was not overspending on a single line-item in a nearly $18 billion General Fund Budget.
Three months later, we now know that they knew, or should have known, that the real state budget deficit had exceeded $225 million and Connecticut’s state government was careening toward a budget deficit of more than a quarter of a billion dollars….
Along with a projected budget deficit for next year in excess of $1.4 billion.
And despite this undeniable truth, Governor Malloy managed to duck his legal obligation to provide the Connecticut General Assembly and the people of Connecticut with a comprehensive Deficit Mitigation plan.
For more background on these latest issues go to Keith Phaneuf’s most recent articles at Lembo backs Malloy’s assessment of smaller CT deficit and GOP says Lembo ignored deficit to shield Malloy