Special Session Resolves Budget Deficit

January 2, 2013

On December 19th, the General Assembly came together for a special session to vote on legislation that would get the state’s $415 million budget deficit under control. We also took time to hold a memorial ceremony for those who were lost in the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. This week, I would like to share some of what happened during the special session and some of the steps that were taken to resolve the budget deficit.

First, around 4:30 p.m., senators joined representatives in the ornate Hall of the House of Representatives to remember the 20 children and six adults who lost their lives in Newtown. Clergy and government officials who represent the community spoke about the victims and their experiences throughout the very emotional period. The very somber event was important to show our solidarity, especially during the holiday season.

Afterward, we returned to the Senate and waited for the House to discuss and vote on the legislation that would resolve the budget deficit. When it passed the House and was sent to the Senate, I had an opportunity to share my opinion on the matter.

Prior to session, I met with constituents and heard that we should not make the proposed cuts to hospitals because of concerns about making healthcare more affordable and accessible. Some have even said that these cuts could lead to layoffs or even a shutdown in service. These are major concerns of mine and I made it clear that if the hospitals would be forced to close due to the reduced payment for Medicaid patients, that it is incumbent upon the state to help them out through this difficult period since many hospitals are receiving these reductions mid-year. Many understood the need to make cuts to non-life threatening programs because of the poor fiscal shape of our state budget.

Several weeks ago, I wrote a column about some of the proposed changes that might be considered in the special session, including possible tax increases. After several rounds of negotiations, these initial proposals were not included. However, there was one proposal to raise “revenue” by limiting how many tax credits that film studios could claim.

Ultimately, the bill included 45 different sections, including reduced spending for various programs, changes to Medicaid payments and magnet school tuition, and eliminating longevity pay for non-union state employees. For many, these were tough choices to make, but the state budget is currently unsustainable and raising taxes would harm hard working families and risk the reversal of an economic recovery. The legislation passed the Senate by a vote of 31-3 and the House of Representatives by a vote of 140-3.

When I spoke during the debate, I noted that as we gathered as a unified legislative body, we set the example for Washington to follow. The time for “inside baseball” comments and rhetoric had to stop. I likened that day’s action by the Connecticut legislature to that of an all-star baseball team. During the regular season we are on two teams – Republicans and Democrats – but today we are both working for the people of Connecticut, we are one team. There were things in this legislation that many lawmakers might not like, but much like a baseball player, sometimes the coach asks us to hit a sacrifice bunt when we want to hit a homerun. So while one lawmaker might be thrown out, the team, and our state, ultimately wins.

The next state budget will be developed in February, and it is my hope that legislative leaders will decide to push for a more responsible level of spending. That way, the General Assembly will not have to come back into session to resolve a similar budget deficit. Also, next week, the regular legislative session is set to open on Wednesday, January 9th, and I will make sure to share more news from the State Capitol with you. Happy New Year!