Bipartisan Budget Deal Sails Through Both Chambers
For the fourth time under Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle were able to strike a bipartisan deal. This time it would close this year’s $220 million deficit.
The deal maintains funding for state hospitals, community nonprofits, and municipal funding. It also sweeps about $62.1 million from various funds outside the general fund and reduces monies for various state agencies by about $83.4 million. It cuts about $9.5 million from the judicial branch and $1 million from the legislative branch.
The Senate voted 33-3 Tuesday afternoon in favor of the package. Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, was the only Democratic lawmaker to vote against the bill. She was joined by Sens. Joe Markley, R-Southington, and Art Linares, R-Westbrook.
Bartolomeo said she voted against the deficit mitigation package because she couldn’t support some of the cuts to community colleges, the Department of Children and Families, and services to the disabled. She said lawmakers should be looking to use some of the sales tax revenue going to fund Malloy’s transportation initiative or the Municipal Revenue Sharing Account, instead of cutting services her constituents use.
The House voted 127-16 in favor of the package Tuesday shortly after the Senate. Nine Democratic lawmakers and seven Republican lawmakers voted against the package.
Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden, was one of the Democratic lawmakers to vote against the package. She said she understands the state is facing difficult times and needs to balance its budget, but she’s fighting to protect the services provided to the human services community.
“I just could not in all good conscience do this,” Abercrombie said. “There’s other things that need to be on the table.”
Leadership in both chambers were unable to say exactly how many of the spending cuts made Tuesday will help reduce the $900 million budget deficit in 2017.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said the 2016 deficit mitigation package doesn’t necessarily aim to reduce the 2017 budget deficit. “Some, but not a whole lot,” he said.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said Tuesday’s deal is a deficit mitigation package because the deficit is larger than 1 percent of the general fund.
“We still have the deficit for 2017 and we still have the projected deficit we have for the next few years so we still have a lot of work,” Klarides said.
She said she will continue to push for real long-term structural budget changes into the future and hopes those changes will be made on a bipartisan basis, but wasn’t going to make any promises.
“For the first time in a long time, we worked together,” Klarides said.
In the short-term, there are real spending cuts that are part of the deficit mitigation package.
Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, said the budget cutting process has been “extremely hard.”
This is the second time the General Assembly has had to amend the 2016 budget because of declining revenues.
“This has been difficult for all of us,’’ said Walker. “We have to remember there are faces in these cuts that we’ve made. None of this has been easy, but we must take action.”
In the meantime, municipal leaders and their advocates celebrated the decision not to cut funding to cities and towns.
“Legislators recognized that the $16.7 million mid-year cut would have shifted the tax burden unfairly onto our already overburdened property taxpayers,” Joe DeLong, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said. “All spending cuts are difficult, but sparing towns from more mid-year cuts is a evidence of a strong partnership between the state and local governments, and a real recognition of the interdependence of the state-local tax system when setting the tax burden on our residents and businesses.”
The business community also expressed their appreciation.
Bonnie Stewart, general counsel for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, applauded the bipartisan effort, however, she said long-term structural spending reforms need to be made in order to get the state budget under control.
Some of those long-term reforms could include rebalancing nursing home care and regionalizing more services. Those are the types of changes that would send a message to the business community that Connecticut is a place to invest, Stewart said.
The nonprofit community also expressed its gratitude for avoiding potentially crippling cuts to its clients.
“We understand that the state’s fiscal troubles will continue into next year’s spending plan,” Jeffrey Walter, interim CEO of the Connecticut Community Nonprofit Alliance, said. “But by preserving programs today, we have the opportunity to work with the legislature and state agencies to develop long-term strategies to more effectively use limited dollars in the years ahead.”
Malloy said Tuesday was a day to celebrate, but tomorrow they will have to get to work on the $900 million deficit in 2017 budget.
Jack Kramer contributed to this story.