Connecticut lawmakers overwhelmingly pass “historic” budget

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut lawmakers sent a long-awaited, bipartisan state budget to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s desk Thursday, passing the “historic” tax-and-spending package with a veto-proof majority.

The House of Representatives approved the roughly $41 billion, two-year plan 126-23. It came hours after the Senate passed the same bill, 33-3.

“It was a long process. But in the beginning, I said to my caucus, 86 percent of the public … wanted us to act together, and we did,” said Democratic House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz of Berlin, referring to a recent statewide poll. “We did compromise in areas, but overall I think it’s a good budget that will move Connecticut forward.”

Connecticut has been without a budget since the fiscal year began July 1, forcing Malloy, a Democrat, to run the state using his limited executive spending authority. That has meant cuts to social service programs, nonprofit agencies and schools, as well as confusion and angst among municipal leaders and school boards attempting to balance their budgets amid warnings of credit rating downgrades.

Malloy was not part of the closed-door negotiations between Democratic and Republican leaders during the past month that produced the first bipartisan budget in about a decade. Following the House vote, Malloy’s spokeswoman said the governor appreciated lawmakers’ work, but he and his staff need to carefully review the nearly 900-page document.

“Unfortunately, our review has already uncovered egregious problems relating to the hospital tax that could put the state budget out-of-balance by over a billion dollars,” Kelly Donnelly said. She said staff will continue to analyze the legislation, “weighing its merits and faults, so that the governor can arrive at an informed and carefully considered decision regarding his support.”

Legislative leaders took in stride Malloy’s warning about the hospital tax and its potential risk to federal funds under a complicated reimbursement scheme.

“If there is a problem, we will come in and make sure it is fixed,” said Republican House Minority Leader Themis Klarides of Derby. The General Assembly still is technically in special session and could return to vote on an emergency fix to the bill.

It was clear from the House and Senate debates that lawmakers want to stop the impasse that has dragged on for months. Some described hearing from anguished families about how Malloy’s executive order cut funding to programs that serve their children with disabilities, or from local school officials preparing for possible school closures and teacher layoffs.

“We don’t have alternatives. We right now have no budget, we have no revenue coming in, and we have a $3.5 billion deficit,” said Democratic Majority Leader Mitt Ritter.

Some communities, including his own city of Hartford, are on the brink of insolvency, he added. “There’s a moral obligation not to let that happen,” he said.

But some Republicans and Democrats said they couldn’t vote for the package, despite the urgency and the bipartisanship. Republican Rep. Rob Sampson, of Wolcott, voiced concern about the level of taxes and spending in the budget, saying it’s a “direct contradiction to the message we need to send to businesses and citizens that Connecticut has a bright future.”

On the other side of the political spectrum, Democratic Rep. Robyn Porter, of New Haven, said she couldn’t support the plan because she said it disproportionately hurts people who are struggling financially by reducing access to Medicaid health insurance, the earned income tax credit and other programs.

“When we make these cuts, we have to look at who is hurting,” she said. “And it’s hurting the people who are most vulnerable in this state, who are living paycheck-to-paycheck, trying to make ends meet.”


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