Legislative leaders hoping for budget votes this week
By SUSAN HAIGH
Oct. 24, 2017
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut legislative leaders said Tuesday they have reached an agreement on the final details of a long-awaited bipartisan state budget and hope to hold the first vote as early as Wednesday.
Leaders arrived at a "handshake" deal early Tuesday, nearly a week after they had announced an agreed-upon budget framework. Some of the General Assembly's rank-and-file members were briefed Tuesday afternoon on the plan.
"We're ready to move forward," Democratic Senate President Martin Looney said.
There were tentative plans for a Senate vote Wednesday and a vote in the House of Representatives on Thursday. Those plans could change, however. Some remaining details were not yet ironed out Tuesday night.
Connecticut has been without a two-year, tax-and-spending plan since the fiscal year began July 1, forcing Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to run the state using his limited executive spending authority. That has meant cuts to social service programs and certain state grants, as well as general uncertainty and fear among municipal leaders about how much aid they can expect this fiscal year.
Malloy, who has been skeptical of the tentative deal, had not received written details of the budget deal by Tuesday evening. The paperwork still was being drafted by legislative staff, as well as detailed information about how much state aid each municipality will receive. Looney expressed optimism Malloy will ultimately sign the budget into law, saying there was a positive discussion between senior legislative staff and the governor's senior staff.
Malloy previously vetoed a Republican-crafted budget that had passed with a handful of Democratic votes. Lawmakers said they were working to secure enough votes to override a veto if it becomes necessary.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Robert Duff noted how the bipartisan proposal restores funding that was cut in previous budgets for higher education, scholarships, municipal aid, public education funding and social services.
"There are lots of things in there that I think the governor will like, as well as our own caucus members," said Duff, acknowledging the agreement also is "tough and painful." Lawmakers needed to cover a projected $3.5 billion deficit in the approximate two-year, $40 billion plan.
Lawmakers confirmed some final details of the plan. They include:
— Property taxes on vehicles. The state will continue capping the tax rate that cities and towns can charge on vehicles in local property taxes. An earlier proposal to entirely scrap the tax in the second year is no longer in the budget plan, but legislators said they hope it can be eliminated eventually.
— Taxes. Connecticut's cigarette tax would increase by 45 cents in the first year, to a total of $4.35 a pack. Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano confirmed the latest budget agreement now includes a surcharge on ride-hailing services, such as Uber and Lyft.
— Pensions. Fasano also confirmed the plan will not include GOP reforms to state employee pensions starting in 2027. He acknowledged many Republicans were upset by the concession, but Fasano noted there are other provisions that will give the governor's office more flexibility with union contracts.
The budget proposal also requires teachers to pay 1 percent more of their income into the state teacher pension. They currently pay 6 percent.
— Reforms: House Republican Leader Themis Klarides said the agreement includes a list of budget-related reforms, such as detailed caps on state spending and borrowing, as well as mandatory votes by the legislature on union contracts.