Leaders finish changes to tentative CT budget deal
Democratic and Republican legislative leaders completed their work around 1:30 a.m.
Though rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate had discussed the tentative budget in limited detail in separate caucuses held late last week and on Monday, leaders also have said the final package must go through a second round of caucuses before any vote is held.
If those caucuses go well, though, tentative plans call for the Senate to vote Wednesday and the House to vote Thursday.
“We’ve been very close from a dollars-and-cents perspective for a long time so getting to balance was really about policy more than anything else,” House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said.
While they announced the framework of a tentative deal last Wednesday, they had been struggling since then to resolve a myriad of outstanding details in the two-year budget.
Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, confirmed as late as Monday afternoon that spending and revenue proposals for both the current fiscal year and for 2018-19 were out of balance.
Sources at that time said talks began Monday morning with the current year at least $30 million in deficit and 2018-19 finances more than $70 million in the red.
Though details remain limited, leaders have confirmed some components of the plan, which is designed to close huge projected deficits of about $1.6 billion this fiscal year and $1.9 billion in 2018-19.
- Education Cost Sharing grants to most cities and towns were cut modestly, with the state’s lowest-performing school districts shielded the most.
- The plan provides for the $40 million in emergency state aid Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin says is needed to help the capital city avoid bankruptcy. It also would require Hartford to refinance its debt, extending some payment schedules — and increasing overall debt costs — to lower annual debt payments in the short term.
- The budget does not assume savings this fiscal year and next tied to reductions in state employee pension benefits after June 30, 2027 — when the existing benefits contract with unions expires. This had been included in an early budget crafted by Republican legislators.
- The budget sweeps tens of millions of dollars in each fiscal year from energy conservation funds supported with surcharges placed on monthly consumer utility bills.
- There are no increases in income or sales tax rates, though both the working poor and the middle class would face tax hikes through the reduction of income tax credits.
- A new tax increase on hospitals — which is supported by the industry — would be imposed to leverage hundreds of millions of dollars in new federal aid.
- And smokers would pay an extra 45 cents per pack, bringing Connecticut’s cigarette levy to $4.35, tying New York for highest in the nation.
Though a specific date for a vote hasn’t been announced yet, leaders said legislators were asked to keep Wednesday through Friday open, and Ritter added he remains optimistic a vote can be resolved during that window of time.
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