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Budget Cuts Loom Large Over Norwalk Aquarium

NORWALK, Conn. – The future of the Maritime Aquarium is in doubt because it is slated to lose a big chunk of its funding under budget cuts proposed by Gov. Dannel Malloy.

The Maritime Center Authority is slated to lose $65,827 in fiscal year 2012 and $531,525 in fiscal year 2013 under the proposal. Jennifer Herring, president and CEO of the Maritime Aquarium, calls that "very challenging" this year and "devastating" next year. Asked whether the aquarium would be able to stay open next year if the cut went through, Herring said she didn't know.

State Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said he hopes the proposed cuts don't become a reality. The state budget crisis intensified when members of the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition failed to ratify an agreement their leadership made with Malloy. But on Monday steps were taken to allow another vote on the agreement.

"The unions today took an important step in changing their bylaws so that, in fact, they can get some clarification from the original agreement and bring it to their members and to begin the process of a revote," Duff said. "Really, the best thing that can happen is if the unions ratify the negotiation between the governor and the union leadership. So this is really in the hands, at this point, of our state employees. If I have one request it would be that they would ratify the agreement, otherwise these cuts will become reality."

If the cuts become reality, the aquarium would immediately struggle. "The budget has already been cut to the bone," Herring said, and the loss of $65,827 would hurt. "This year is going to be very challenging," she said. "We're running an extremely thin operation."

Then there's the $531,525 cut proposed for fiscal year 2013. "Next year will be devastating," she said. "All of the organizations that have been line items for a long time, the five or six biggest tourist draws in the state, will be affected. I don't know what we'll do."

She doubted raising ticket prices would help, as there would be more people unemployed and the "horrendous" effect of the cuts would hurt visits.

"I'm hoping that the unions will make a different decision before the layoffs take place," she said. "It's going to devastating for the entire state of Connecticut if those cuts go through. ... What kind of ripple effect will that have on the economy?"

Duff said he had worked hard to keep funding for the aquarium over the years. "This is personally disappointing, but the savings from the negotiated agreement with the employees was always part of the budget makeup," he said. "I think the failure of the state employees to ratify the agreement puts a lot of our citizens in a very difficult position."

Would you pay higher ticket prices at The Maritime Aquarium?

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