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CT Lawmakers Brainstorm Budget Ideas
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With Governor Rell and state lawmakers looking for ways to cut next year's budget deficit, some leading state economists say the government needs to come up with bigger solutions.  WNPR's John Dankosky reports.

According to UConn's Fred Carstensen, and the CBIA's Pete Gioia, The $726 million gap in next year's budget is being filled with too many one-time tricks, including federal stimulus dollars that might not be flowing to the states, and an economic recovery that might be slow to reach Connecticut.  Then, the economists say - there's the next-year's budget hole, which stands at 3.88 billion, and could swell to 6 billion by some estimates.

So, what to do?

Gioia told WNPR's Where We Live that state lawmakers need to make big changes - soon.

"They're doing things the same way because they've always done them that way.  Perhaps because it's easier, perhaps because of inertia.  And they're not rolling up their sleeves, looking at what are the basic fundamentals of what we're doing.  And saying 'We've got to do it different, we've got to do it smarter,' and that over the long term produces significant savings, with the the least amount of damage to people who really do need services. "

Gioia suggested an overhaul of long-term care that he estimates could save $600 million a year in Medicaid payments by providing more at home-care.  Carstensen says he sees another big savings in the criminal justice system through drug courts and other alternatives to incarceration. 

"We have phenomenal incarceration rates, we put non-violent offenders in prison, which makes them into lifetime criminals...a phenomenal recidivism rate.  Costs us over $40,000 a year for each one.  Probably of the current population, probably 7000 don't even need to be there, because they're non-violent offenders and never had a violent incident.  We could probably save $200 million a year just on reforming the way we handle the corrections system."

Senate President Don Williams told the economists that the state does need to get an early start on the multi-billion dollar deficit that's looming in 2012, and has proposed agency consolidations that would have a long-term effect - but not produce savings right away. Signaling that systemic changes might have to wait - Williams said he thinks that Governor Rell has decided to leave the really big problems for the next Governor - and legislature - to solve.

For WNPR, I'm John Dankosky.