Legislators Hope To Vote On Budget Deal Before July ends

Legislators Hope To Vote On Budget Deal Before July ends
Hartford Courant, July 20, 2017

Legislators are aiming to vote as early as next week on a two-year, $40 billion budget that could end months of delays in a long-running fiscal stalemate.

As budget negotiators met behind closed doors Wednesday to try to end the gridlock, state employee unions stepped up calls to increase taxes on the wealthy.

State AFL-CIO union leader Lori Pelletier said the legislature should "raise the tax rate on the upper 1 percent and freeze it for 10 years'' through 2027.

"Why not?'' Pelletier said. "The legislature could say we're raising the income tax rate on people making over half a million'' dollars per year. State employee unions have already agreed to make contract concessions worth $1.5 billion — but that leaves a remaining projected deficit of $3.5 billion.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz of Berlin is pushing for a budget vote by month's end and he has asked House Democrats to reserve July 27 as a possible date. Both Aresimowicz and House Majority Leader Matt Ritter of Hartford said they do not have the votes in their 79-member caucus to raise the income tax.

Ritter said that House Democrats are using their already-released plan of increasing the sales tax to 6.99 percent, up from the current 6.35 percent, as "the blueprint for negotiations going forward.''

Aresimowicz disputed liberal Democrats' claims that they have 45 House votes to raise taxes on the rich.

"The simple mathematics say even if you have 45, it doesn't equal 76. We have to get 76 votes to pass a budget out of the House. We have to be in agreement with the Senate to get at least 18 votes and maybe the lieutenant governor'' to break a potential tie.

Legislators have been summoned to Hartford on Monday for a veto override session that is required under the state constitution, but some lawmakers believe action on the budget on the same day is not likely.

Some at the Capitol cautioned against any optimism because the legislature has already missed a series of deadlines that included the end of the regular legislative session on June 7, the end of the fiscal year on June 30, and a planned vote on July 18 that never occurred.

But other lawmakers believe there is momentum for a budget deal because the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition voted 83 percent to 17 percent in favor of $1.5 billion in concessions over two years that would help close the budget gap.

After the union voting was concluded, employees gathered Tuesday at a union hall in Hartford to say the next step is for millionaires, billionaires and corporations to pay more in taxes in order to close the budget deficit as part of a "shared sacrifice.''.

"We definitely did our part,'' said Darnell Ford, a social worker in the District 1199 union who works for the Department of Children and Families in Middletown. "Now, it's time for our legislature to do their part by asking the billionaires and the corporations to do the same. We can't be the only part in this process.'' "Amen!'' came shouts from the union crowd at the Connecticut State Employees Association.

Separate vote on union concessions back to top

Aresimowicz is pushing for a separate, stand-alone vote on the union concessions deal. Those votes are being viewed as linked as part of the larger budget package.

"The strategy is you can't get one without the other,'' Aresimowicz said. "We do not have a budget or have any hopes of a budget if that $1.5 billion in taxpayer savings from the state employees union disappears.''

Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano of North Haven agrees with the need for a stand-alone vote on the concessions, and his caucus is seeking a vote on union concessions on the same day as the veto session Monday.

"The question before the General Assembly is: Is the SEBAC a good deal or not for the state of Connecticut?'' Fasano said.

Stating that he has not seen a nonpartisan fiscal analysis of all of the costs of the concessions, Fasano said he has not taken a position on the union agreement.

"I'm not going to prejudge it,'' Fasano said. "I want to see the numbers."

The legislature needs to act quickly on a budget, Fasano said, because nonprofit providers are not receiving the full allocation of money that they expected because the state has been running by executive order since the start of the fiscal year on July 1. He noted that a protest about budget cuts was held at the Capitol on Tuesday, and five people, including four who are confined to wheelchairs, were arrested after refusing to leave Malloy's outer office.

Fasano admitted to being frustrated by the standoff that has forced budget cuts since the start of the fiscal year on July 1.

"Damn it, we have to wake up that people are being hurt,'' Fasano said.

Malloy's budget spokesman said that a full, two-year budget is preferable, but he would accept a mini-budget to ameliorate the ongoing cuts.

"Running the state via executive order was not the governor's preference, and it has forced expenditure cuts to important and worthwhile programs and services,'' Chris McClure said. "To continue to operate the state by executive order is disruptive and harmful to our residents, municipalities and economy. The state's lawmakers need to take action to ameliorate the potential damage from these cuts, even if it means adopting a short term mini-budget such as the one we proposed in June.''