Legislature Poised To Adopt Bipartisan Budget
HARTFORD, CT — Legislative leaders who worked to put this budget deal together without Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in the room said they hope he signs it, but they’re not expecting him to do so. That means they will need to find 101 votes in the House and 24 in the Senate.
As of Tuesday night, Malloy still had not received any budget documents even though his senior staff had been briefed on the details.
The last-minute compromise backs off some sweeps to clean energy funds, maintains a cap on motor vehicle taxes, increases the cigarette tax by 45 cents, increases the hospital tax, increases teacher contributions to their pensions, creates a fee for ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, cuts $65 million a year from the University of Connecticut’s budget, and establishes a spending and bonding cap.
“It’s really a bipartisan agreement,” House Majority Leader Matt Ritter said Tuesday following a closed-door meeting with his caucus.
About a half-hour before Democratic legislators in the House walked into the caucus room, Capitol Police emptied the hallways of lobbyists who didn’t have an appointment. Lobbyists were told the building closed at 5 p.m. and they needed to be invited by a legislator to stay.
Lobbyists were trying to get information about the state budget and possibly exert any influence they had to make a change before it’s printed.
Democrats hold a 79 to 72 majority over Republicans in the House. They need 76 members to pass a budget, but in order to approve a constitutional spending cap they will need 91 members and in order to override a veto they would need 101 votes.
Asked how many Republican legislators in the House would vote in favor of the compromise, House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said “more than not.”
She said even though Republicans were disappointed they were unable to push through changes to state employee pensions, they were able to get more “structural change” accomplished than ever before.
From the spending and bonding cap to changes to prevailing wage and municipal reform, Klarides said there’s a lot for Republicans to support in the compromise. There’s also language in the budget that would require lawmakers to vote on all labor contracts.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said a compromise means both sides walk away “not really all that happy.” He said a compromise means they didn’t get everything they felt they could have gotten.
Asked how many members will support the budget, Aresimowicz said they will probably lose a handful of lawmakers on the Democratic side and a handful of lawmakers on the Republican side.
This is the longest the state of Connecticut has gone without a two-year budget in place.
The lack of a budget and an executive order which drastically cut funding to cities and towns was beginning to take its toll.
As the calendar turned to October, “it became crystal clear to us that we would not pass a budget if we did not have Democratic and Republican support,” Ritter said.
In order to do that they needed to kick Malloy out of the room.
However, Aresimowicz said they always knew exactly where the governor stood on a specific issue, so it wasn’t hard to know what he would or wouldn’t support.
He said Malloy is “amazingly consistent.” A trait that can be “reassuring and maddening at the same time,” he added.
He said the decision to leave the governor out of the discussions “wasn’t done with disrespect.”
The Senate, which is evenly divided 18-18 between Democrats and Republicans, is expected to begin debate on the budget Wednesday afternoon after the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee meets to adopt revenue estimates. The House is scheduled to debate it Thursday morning.
Following debate on the budget, lawmakers were expected to take up legislation that would have Dominion Energy continue operating the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant in Waterford. Similar bills have passed the Senate, but have never been called in the House. Aresimowicz said he would raise the legislation, but can’t guarantee its passage. He said he hasn’t counted the votes, but will allow it to be raised and debated.