The budget clock ticks, political drama ensues, then … back to the drawing board
It was a week of suspense and anxiety, followed by a flurry of more suspense and more anxiety, followed by a night of high political drama — and promise of a veto — yet Connecticut is still waiting to see what a feverish effort to pass a state budget will produce.
In theory, Connecticut was on its way to adopting a budget as the political smoke was clearing early Saturday. Defections of a few Democrats enabled passage of the first Republican-backed budget in decades.
Not that Gov. Dannel Malloy will sign it.
Friday’s dramatic turn of budgetary events began when three Democratic senators joined the Republicans in approving passage of a budget bill the governor condemned as unbalanced and riddled with gimmicks.
The next shoe dropped when the Republican proposal won approval in the Democratic- dominated House, where six majority-party members helped pass it, 77-73 despite Malloy’s promise of a veto.
Talk of bipartisan cooperation on a new proposal followed.
Early in the week, as the state began to assimilate the impact of Hurricane Irma on its friends to the south, state legislators continued their long-running political dance, trying to find common ground on everything from municipal aid to sales taxes to education funding.
By Wednesday, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, seemed to think a deal was near, posting on Facebook an image of white smoke coming from a Vatican chimney. Later that day, however, while hopeful, they said they and Gov. Dannel Malloy still had issues to resolve before a tentatively scheduled Thursday vote. There was maneuvering all day, with Democrats trying to set up a choice between their way or the governor’s executive order running the state.
By late Thursday night, however, Aresimowicz’s symbolic white smoke had blown away, and legislators left the capitol with plans to return Friday evening.
One key element still in play was a proposal to shift billions of dollars in teachers’ pension obligations onto future generations.
Another was a proposed 55 percent tax increase on hospitals – a tax the institutions initially found to be a return to “failed policies.” By Thursday, however, after receiving “assurances” that they would suffer no fiscal harm, the hospitals signed off on the tax that is expected will bring $344 million for the state.
Speaking of policy failures, the plan to create hundreds of new jobs through tax incentives and loans to Alexion Pharmaceuticals seems not to have panned out. The company will return some $25 million after announcing it is moving its headquarters out of New Haven. In general, the state’s effort to cultivate itself as a bioscience center is facing its share of obstacles.
The state’s overall unemployment rate, at least, ticked down; and Connecticut continues to have one of the highest per capita incomes in America even as its population declines and its income gap between whites and minorities persists, according to new government data. The recently disclosed data breach at Equifax is discomfiting to consumers, too, since they may have to pay to put a freeze on disclosure of their credit rating.
At least one long-standing and nettlesome issue was apparently resolved Thursday at the state capitol. Lawmakers struck a deal in principle authorizing energy officials to take measures to stabilize the profitability of New England’s largest power plant, the Millstone nuclear station in Waterford.
Health insurance policy, however, continues to be a concern. Connecticut’s two insurance providers agreed to participate in the state’s exchange for another year, but, depending on individual circumstances, rates for some will increase from 27 to nearly 32 percent.
Back in Washington, D.C., lawmakers were once again addressing the national healthcare system, pushing the concept of “Medicare for All,” and other options including repairs or repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Connecticut’s Insurance Commissioner Katharine Wade also weighed in, proposing a new “copper” level plan for Obamacare that would provide basic benefits with no frills and higher out-of-pocket expenses.
U.S. Reps. John Larson, D-1st, and Joe Courtney, D-2nd, meanwhile, made a pitch to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, asking for a tax break for thousands of Connecticut homeowners whose foundations are failing because of tainted concrete used in their construction.
They and other members of the congressional delegation may be in for a fight soon if the Senate moves forward with another round of base closings –a measure that could threaten the submarine base in Groton.
There was some hope — clouded by conflicting statements from the president and congressional leaders — that Congress will be able to enshrine President Barack Obama’s DACA program into law.
On the political front in Connecticut, a new gubernatorial hopeful emerged: Dita Bhargava of Greenwich — a feminist Democrat with a Wall Street pedigree and pro-business approach.
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