Lembo: Charges of Malloy “Cooking the Books” are “Inaccurate,” “Spin”

Connecticut’s chief financial guardian is dismissing Republican charges that Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration is “cooking the books” ahead of the 2014 election saying their “inaccurate” and simply political spin. However, state Comptroller Kevin Lembo does say Malloy and the legislature do have some work to do to keep the budget in balance.

Earlier this week, state House Minority Leader Larry Cafero leveled the charges against Malloy as administration budget chief Ben Barnes made a presentation to legislators and pegged the projected deficit for the first fiscal year after the election at $515 million. The legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis puts the number at $1.1 billion. The difference comes because Barnes’ office is using a “current practices” form of accounting, which doesn’t account for inflation and other factors.

Back in 2009 when then-Gov. Jodi Rell’s administration had a habit of overestimating revenue projections, the legislature passed a law that put in place a mechanism for arriving at a consensus between the governor’s budget numbers and those of the legislature. In essence, the comptroller would break the tie and issue a consensus revenue estimate. The system doesn’t apply in this case because it’s not the revenue the two sides disagree on.

But Lembo still has an opinion on the current situation in which there is a half a billion dollar difference. “It means the administration and the legislature have some work to do. The question is, how and when do they do it. The disagreement is about the ‘out years.’ The governor still has some levers to pull if he chooses,” Lembo told The Hanging Shad. He says that could include moves with economic recovery notes, tobacco resources and other moves.

Lembo does say that like in past years, the spending cap could be an issue. “It appears the cap could come into play.” Some estimates put the budget $500 million over the cap in the out years although Lembo would not confirm that number.

As for Cafero’s “cooking the books” charges, Lembo says it’s all politics. “It’s absolutely politics. It’s spin and it’s inaccurate. By looking at the deficit in the different way, the administration is acknowledging the governor and the legislature can change the path the state is on.

If nothing else, Barnes’ presentation and Cafero’s usual over-the-top response are indications of what’s to come as Malloy and his Republican opponents gear up for the 2014 election. Stay tuned.