Dems Look To Marijuana, Gaming & Tolls To Fill Budget Hole; GOP Wants More Labor Savings
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HARTFORD, CT — Legislative Democratic leaders put forward a budget proposal Tuesday that legalizes marijuana, expands casino gaming, creates a paid Family and Medical Leave system, and reduces funding for Connecticut’s clean election system.
“This is a fiscally responsible blueprint that recognizes the reality of the need for a more efficient state government, while also investing in a path to the future by helping make our state more affordable, attractive to business, and welcoming to visitors,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said.
The Democratic budget would spend $19.78 billion in 2018 and $20.06 billion in 2019. That means it spends about $300 million more than Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s revised budget in the first year, and almost $200 million more in the second year.
The budget, which is a one-page Excel spreadsheet — much different than the 99-pages of revisions released Monday by Malloy’s office — doesn’t ask municipalities to contribute $400 million to the Teacher’s Retirement System, but it does cut $200 million in unspecified municipal aid and forces municipalities to find $100 million in regional efficiencies.
It also requires non-union state employees to take three furlough days to achieve $4.6 million per year. It cuts another $50 million from the Board of Regents, which oversees the Connecticut State College System, and eliminates the already consolidated legislative commissions.
It also closes Southbury Training School, another prison, and the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, which was already scheduled to close July 1, 2018.
The budget assumes legalizing marijuana will generate $60 million in 2018 and $100 million in 2019.
It’s unclear if they actually have the votes for legalizing marijuana.
“We did not say everything we put out today is going to be in the final budget document,” House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said Tuesday.
The budget also moves toward tolls, but doesn’t include any revenue from the idea in the next two years.
As far as gaming is concerned, Ritter said they are interested in looking at the Massachusetts model of expanding gaming where applicants would pay a fee to open a casino.
“We’re trying to get people to agree to some concepts,” Ritter said. “We don’t have 99 members anymore.”
The Senate Democrats seem more inclined to allow the two federally recognized Indian tribes to open up a casino in East Windsor. There’s still no cohesive strategy for the Democratic Party on the issue.
The Democratic budget also reduces the sales tax diversion to the special transportation fund by more than $200 million a year. That was a request by Malloy in 2015 when they created a program to help provide municipalities with more funding by using a portion of the state sales tax.
It raises about $160 million in application and licensing fees, but it doesn’t say exactly which ones are targeted. It reduces a tax credit for the working poor even further than Malloy, and delays paying down the differential on the transition to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles by $57.5 million.
“The proposal offered by Democrats in the Senate and House protects our social safety net and invests in our workforce while implementing important regionalism strategies to save taxpayers $100 million,” Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said. “As Democrats and Republicans return to the negotiating table, it is paramount that we pursue structural reforms so that we can stabilize our budget.”
The House and Senate Republican budgets rely heavily on changes to the state’s relationship with labor for savings. The House Republican budget would spend $19.47 billion in 2018 and $19.62 billion in 2019. The Senate Republican budget would spend $19.64 billion in 2018 and $19.79 billion in 2019.
Each caucus decided to do its own budget proposal instead of a joint budget proposal.
The House Republican proposal would cap bonding at $1.3 billion; stop shifting a portion of the sales tax to the Municipal Revenue Sharing Account; save any changes to the Education Cost Sharing formula for future legislatures; reduce the tax credit for working families even further, and; reduce the workforce through attrition by 2 percent starting in the second year of the budget. It also restores the $200 property tax credit for middle-income individuals and families.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said the most important part of their proposal is to come out with no new tax increases for the state of Connecticut.
Most of the spending reductions in the House Republican proposal come from maintaining the Education Cost Sharing formula at its current levels and under the current formula. It also assumes Malloy will find more money from his negotiations with the state employee unions.
The Senate Republican budget proposal relies on increasing the amount of labor savings from $700 million in 2018 to $958.1 million. In 2019 it assumes an additional $405 million in labor savings bring the total to $1.26 billion.
Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said the deficit has gone up, so labor should be able to give more.
“We are asking them to step up a little stronger given that our budget is a little more in trouble,” Fasano said.