The Thames River Heritage Park water taxi in Groton
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz talks with Rep. Brandon Mcgee, D-Hartford

Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Ned Lamont said “no” to many requests for more funds in the new, two-year $43.4 billion state budget approved by the House late Monday.

Nonprofit social service agencies, cities and towns, advocates for smoking cessation programs, and others all got less than they wanted.

But there was plenty to go around for dozens of community-based projects — primarily in the home districts of majority Democratic legislators.

Supporters call this meeting local needs. Critics call it “pork-barrel” spending.

More than $9.4 million is scheduled to be doled out. The recipients range from youth sports leagues to YMCA and 4-H organizations, and from community and cultural centers to churches.

There are grants for a robotics competition and for the Connecticut Writing Project.

A farmers’ market in Ellington, the Women’s Business Development Council in Stamford, the Thames River Heritage Park water taxi in Groton, a nonprofit marine research group on Long Island Sound, and a Hartford Little League program named after Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford, all secured funding.

More than $6 million of the spending over the next two years would be funded out of an “other expenses” account in the Judicial Branch budget.

“I can’t explain it except to say this is the regular course of business for Democrats in the majority,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby.

She also chastised Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration for touting a “gimmick-free” budget “that probably has more pork projects than we have ever seen.”

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby (file photo)

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said the projects all reflect priorities that Democrats have emphasized for years, including economic development, environmental and agricultural preservation, and youth services.

“In some communities these youth programs we support are the only type of activities the kids have,” Aresimowicz said. “If we can give them a structured environment, they are less likely to find themselves in trouble.”

Rep. Chris Rosario, D-Bridgeport, said he wasn’t sure why the Greek Orthodox Holy Trinity Church in his city was receiving $25,000.

But he said Connecticut’s largest city — and one of its poorest — has leaned increasingly on religious, civic and nonprofit groups as state-sponsored social and health care programs faced cut after cut in the years since the last recession.

“Coming from Bridgeport, we need some wins,” he said. “We’ve been taking it on the chin for generations here.”

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Keith M. PhaneufState Budget Reporter

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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