Gov. Ned Lamont’s insistence on taking steps towards placing Connecticut on a course towards curtailing the daily shipments of municipal waste to out-of-state landfills is a late complication in finalizing a state budget.
In budget talks, the administration is trying to resurrect provisions lawmakers had stripped from House Bill 6664, its ambitious attempt to eventually end the annual export of 860,000 tons of trash to Midwest landfills by increasing recycling.
If the administration persists, House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford, said Friday, Republicans will vote against the budget, depriving the governor of a bipartisan stamp on a spending plan for the next two years.
One of those provisions would have charged municipalities an extra $5 for every ton of waste shipped out of state, both creating an incentive to boost recycling and to create a revenue stream to finance the next generation of waste disposal.
The administration is seeking a $1.50 fee, the same charge that is currently added to the roughly $100 a ton charge for every ton of waste burned at one of the state’s three waste-to-energy plants. A fourth in Hartford closed last year. The fee would go to $2.50 next year.
The disposal fee was explicitly rejected by the legislature’s Environment Committee, and Candelora warned Democrats not to include it — or elements of other bills that stalled during the session — in the budget.
Though spending and revenue numbers dominate the headlines, approval of a state budget also entails crafting a series of policy provisions to implement related programmatic expansions and other changes.
But these so-called “budget implementer” provisions also offer a last chance for proposals that were rejected at the committee level or could not win passage as a standalone bill.
“I do have concerns that if that implementer becomes too unwieldy, we could lose all Republican support for the budget,” Candelora said.
Candelora said one solution would be for Democrats to follow the legislature’s typical practice of scheduling separate votes on implementers, rather than incorporating them into a tax-and-spending bill.
Lamont acknowledged at midday his administration was trying to use budget implementers to make progress on what is likely to be a decade-long effort to reduce waste, increase recycling and develop new disposal facilities in a state with no landfills accepting municipal waste.
“Well, we didn’t get as much done on the environment as we should have,” Lamont said. “And when it comes to waste, I’ve tried to still get a recurring revenue stream to help out those municipalities so they can recycle more, so we send less to those out-of-state places. We’re still negotiating that.”
As originally proposed, House Bill 6664 would have committed Connecticut to embracing “extended producer responsibility,” a concept that would have shifted the costs and potentially control of recycling from municipalities to industry stewardship programs.
Negotiators for Lamont and the legislature’s Democratic majorities continued to work Friday to make last-minute adjustments on the next two-year state budget.
House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said it’s unlikely the measure would be ready for consideration on Saturday but added he’s confident it would be adopted before the regular 2023 session adjourns on Wednesday.
Republicans have been briefed on portions of the implementer provisions, but, Candelora said, they still are lacking plenty of details — and time to review them this session is running out.
Leaders of both parties have expressed optimism for months that there would be bipartisan support for a new budget once it became clear both sides wanted it to feature the first state income-tax rate cut since the mid-1990s.
Candelora said the budget, which offers popular tax cuts, should not become a mechanism “to force people to vote on bad bills.”
Lamont said he did not want the implementers to be a goody bag for reluctant lawmakers.
“I want people to vote for a good budget. I don’t want them to vote because I gave you three more little asks to make it bipartisan. That’s not the way I work,” Lamont said. “I think it’s a good budget, I think it’s gonna have strong bipartisan support for the reasons I gave.”
Ritter said the Democrats will not overreach.
“We don’t anticipate an implementer that will be perfect, but we also won’t have an implementer that is unnecessarily large and complicated,” Ritter said.
Much of the last-minute negotiations have involved restoring funds for programs that rank-and-file Democrats —and in some cases Republicans — strongly support.
According to Ritter, the new budget will spend $164 million more for grants to local school districts in the 2024-25 fiscal year than Lamont proposed.
It also will enhance Lamont’s proposals for public colleges and universities by $105 million in the first fiscal year of the new biennium and then by another $30.7 million in the second.
Lamont, a Democrat, had no opinion on whether implementer negotiations might drive away some Republican votes, adding he’s more concerned that legislators respect the spending cap and other budgetary control reforms enacted in 2017 and renewed unanimously this past February.
“I want to make sure we honor the [fiscal] guardrails,” he said. “We don’t play any games around that. I want to make sure we have the biggest middle class tax cut. I want to make sure we keep our commitment to education and housing, with our investments there. If there’s some bobbing and weaving and some things in the implementer, let’s get it done and keep within the fiscal guardrails.”
Lamont insists he’s not worried about passage of the budget in regular session with just five days left until adjournment.
“It’s not over ’til it’s over,” he said. “But I think we’ve gotten an agreement. We know where we stand. And if I keep my nose out of it, they’re gonna get the job done.”