House passes deficit closure plan despite sweep of firearm permit fees

The House of Representatives gave final approval Wednesday to a plan to cover the $317 million state budget deficit in the current fiscal year.

The House voted 75-74 to approve the plan, but only after Republican legislators narrowly failed to modify it to prevent the use of $300,000 in firearm and ammunition permit-related fees to help close the shortfall.

The bill, which the Senate passed unanimously Tuesday night, now heads to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who is expected to sign it.

The mitigation plan does avert several controversial proposals from the governor, including cuts to a municipal grant, hospitals and state parks.

The mitigation effort is based on the assumption Connecticut will finish its third successive fiscal year in deficit. It also would leave just $29.2 million in the emergency reserve, an amount equal to less than one-sixth of 1 percent of annual operating costs.

Malloy unveiled a plan on May 10 to close a gap estimated at $390 million, or a little more than 2 percent of the General Fund. He used his limited statutory authority to reduce spending unilaterally, which trimmed the shortfall to $317 million.

The govennor also asked lawmakers to:

  • Withhold $19.4 million in casino proceeds scheduled to be shared with cities and towns;
  • Cut $2 million in supplemental payments owed to hospitals;
  • And order a series of one-time revenue sweeps, including about $1 million in total funding earmarked for 18 state parks.

These steps would bring the deficit down to slightly more than $200 million — the rest of which would be covered under Malloy’s plan by drawing down most of the $235.6 million Connecticut holds in its rainy day fund.

The plan legislators adopted restores funds for municipal aid, hospitals and state parks — largely replacing those moves with additional sweeps from special accounts and funds.

House Republicans pressed for one more change, In lieu of sweeping $150,000 each from two accounts holding firearm permit and ammunition permit fees, the GOP suggested drawing $300,000 from another program related to film tax credits.

“There is the potential for a constitutional problem,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said. “There is a reason this line item has not been swept before.”

The fees in question were imposed to help process firearm and ammunition-related permits. But Republican legislators argued federal case law holds rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution cannot be subjected to a general tax or fee — such as one used to help balance the state budget.

The House rejected the Republican amendment 75-73.

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