CT News Junkie | Lawmakers On Track To Make This The Longest Budget Debate In History

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Lawmakers On Track To Make This The Longest Budget Debate In History

by | Aug 17, 2017 5:30am
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Posted to: Education, Town News, State Budget, Education Cost Sharing, Special Session, Taxes, State Capitol

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HARTFORD, CT — With summer vacations ongoing and no final product to debate, House Democratic legislative leaders told their members to keep the week of September 11 open for a possible budget vote.

If the vote doesn’t take place until that week, this will be the longest Connecticut has ever been without a budget.

In 2009, former Gov. M. Jodi Rell allowed the budget that closed a nearly $9 billion deficit to go in effect without her signature. In 1991, the year the General Assembly first adopted an income tax, the budget was finalized before the end of August.

Legislative leaders and staff have been meeting on an almost daily basis, but putting together a two-year, nearly $40 billion budget is almost as hard as finding enough lawmakers to come to Hartford and pass it before the end of August.

“Given the massive cuts that would go into effect in late September/early October, we plan to be in session the week of September 11,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz and House Majority Leader Matt Ritter wrote their members. “To that end, we ask that you involve yourself in the budget process as much as necessary in the coming weeks so that you are prepared to vote that week or earlier. We are committed to moving forward, and we need to be united as a caucus in order to do this.”

Democrats hold a slim 79 to 72 majority over Republicans in the House and need 76 votes in order to pass a budget. That means they can only afford to lose three members and with a budget that relies heavily upon spending cuts and few tax increases the Democrats haven’t been able to find the right mix to get the necessary votes. That’s assuming they won’t receive any Republican votes.

In the Senate they need all 18 Democratic members to vote in favor of the budget and they need Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman to break the tie.

They also need to get a budget both the House and the Senate Democratic caucuses can agree upon and which Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will sign.

Malloy has repeatedly urged legislative leaders to reach a deal. He was disappointed by the House Democratic caucus decision not to adopt a temporary 90-day mini-budget at the end of June to help avoid deep spending cuts to municipalities and nonprofits.

Malloy has been running the state by executive order since July 1.

The private nonprofit community — which serves those with developmental and intellectual disabilities and individuals with substance abuse disorders — was the first to feel the budget pinch.

The nonprofits serving those with mental health and substance abuse disorders have experienced cuts of 2.5 percent. The nonprofits serving the developmentally and intellectually disabled will be forced to make their employees take their second furlough day on Aug. 23.

Municipalities, which have already dealt with their fair share of uncertainty, will really begin to feel the budget stalemate at the end of September.

On Sept. 30, payments totaling $181.6 million are supposed to be made to municipalities for property they’re unable to tax.

But without a budget, those payments won’t be made.

According to a survey by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, about 59 cities and towns have increased their budgets between 0.6 and 6 percent to account for expected reductions in state aid. The mill rate increase for those communities has been between 0.8 and 9.39 percent.

Some communities have decided not to mail motor vehicle tax bills until they can determine whether it will be capped at 32 mills or 37 mills based on a program instituted two years ago by the legislature.

Betsy Gara, executive director of the Council of Small Towns, has said small towns were hurt in July when they didn’t receive money for road and infrastructure projects. She said it may be too late to begin construction by the time the money can be distributed.

Other towns like Torrington voted to delay the opening of school because they are uncertain how much the state will distribute if the budget impasse extends into October.

The first quarterly Education Cost Sharing grant could be reduced if there’s no budget in place by then, but Gara said school officials are having to make a lot of staffing decisions now.

“We don’t know when there’s going to be a budget,” Gara said. “So the schools have to make decisions now about personnel contracts and transportation as well as class size, and the state budget situation is making it very difficult to do that.”

Local elected officials and school superintendents have done their best to apply pressure by holding rallies and press conferences.

A group of five disability advocates even got arrested last month when they refused to leave the governor’s office. Their civil disobedience was an effort to highlight their budget priorities.

So far none of it has helped legislative leaders finalize a state budget.

A spokeswoman for Aresimowicz and a spokesman for Senate President Martin Looney both said Wednesday that there’s no final budget proposal. They said all sides continue to meet to go over various ideas.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story made a mistake about how many Democratic members would be able to vote against the budget.

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