Budget Negotiations Slowed, Finance Meeting Postponed
HARTFORD, CT — The photo of white smoke posted on House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz’s Facebook page Wednesday morning may have been a little premature.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee had postponed until Thursday its meeting to adopt the revenue estimates that would accompany the state budget.
Following a meeting Wednesday with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Democratic legislative leaders said they still had a few items they need to negotiate with the governor.
“There are technical issues regarding the implementers and the volume of work that needs to be done,” Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said.
Aresimowicz said they are “95 percent of the way there” to an agreement with the governor. He also said there are some “substantial hiccups that we need to figure out in the next 24 hours.”
It’s unknown at the moment what that last five percent or “substantial hiccups” include, but both Aresimowicz and Looney said they intend to vote on a budget Thursday.
There are still questions about what’s in the final package when it comes to municipal aid and education funding on the spending side, and there are even more questions about what’s happening with the revenue side of the ledger.
The new budget proposal likely will include a $1-per-month surcharge on every cellphone plan in the state. Additionally, it will hike cigarette taxes by at least 45 cents per pack and also increase real estate conveyances and hospital taxes.
“We’re fairly comfortable that a majority of the proposals have had a lot of scrutiny,” Aresimowicz said. “And the public has had time to look them over.”
However, the cellphone surcharge was just made known on Tuesday night and sent lobbyists for cellular phone carriers scrambling to get it taken out.
Connecticut residents already pay 6.35 percent in sales taxes on their wireless service and a 58-cent-per-month fee to pay for the 9-1-1 emergency system. Currently, Connecticut consumers pay about 14 percent of their bill in federal and state wireless taxes and fees. If the $1-per-month, per-plan proposal is enacted, that tax would jump to 16.5 percent.
As of the weekend, an increase in the sales tax was scrapped creating a hole that needed to be filled. It’s unclear how much of the hole would be filled by a surcharge on cellphone plans.
“Those discussions are still fluid,” Aresimowicz said. “As you know the Finance Committee postponed its revenue adoption meeting in part to allow more discussions to happen.”
He said there were a few attendance issues, too. The Democrats only hold a one vote majority over Republicans on the Finance Committee.
Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said it’s rude with less than an hour to go to cancel a meeting that lawmakers from across the state were expected to attend.
“It’s very inconsiderate,” he said.
But he admitted that it could be a sign that there’s a lot more deal making to be done before the Democrats and the governor reach a deal.
“I doubt the rank-and-file have a true understanding of what’s in the budget,” Fasano said.
Looney said it’s less likely that Democratic lawmakers will vote against a budget that their leadership and the governor were able to agree upon.
Democratic lawmakers said the governor will never sign a Republican budget.
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the Council of Small Towns released a joint statement Wednesday supporting the Republican budget proposal, partly because it does not shift any part of the cost of the teacher retirement fund onto towns and cities.
Aresimowicz said he was disappointed in the statement since they had worked so hard with the organizations to modify the governor’s original proposal.
“I’m having trouble understanding how this is in the best interest of their members because a Republican budget will never be signed by the governor,” House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said. “Ever.”
He said the governor would veto it and Oct. 1 would come and “their member towns would be decimated in a way they have never seen.” He said schools would close and towns would run out of money and be forced to file for bankruptcy.
Malloy left his office as Democratic lawmakers were speaking to the news media and was unavailable for comment.