Senate approves state budget plan ; Three Democrats vote against two-year, $44B package [Waterbury Republican-American]

June 4, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Waterbury Republican-American

The Senate gave the legislature’s final blessing Monday to a two-year budget plan that Democrats and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy hammered out. Senate Democrats labored through nearly seven hours of debate and a half-dozen Republican to pass a budget package that spends $44 billion over the next two years and raises an additional $300 million in taxes. In the Senate debate, Republicans focused on a move to shift $6.2 million in Medicaid spending and other federal funding from under the state spending cap. Malloy told a group of newspaper editors during a Monday conference call that the budget plan continues to make the changes needed to produce savings in state government while not raising new taxes. “Is this perfect? Not by a long-shot. But we are making changes, systemic changes that are producing real savings across the board,” Malloy said. “When you consider where we were two years ago on so many issues and compare that today, there should be no question we are moving in the right direction.”

Sen. Jason Welch, R-Bristol, took the opposite view in the Senate debate. “We are going the wrong way,” Welch said.

Republicans said the budget plan will leave a $1.2 billion deficit to make up in the next two-year budget cycle. The only question going into Monday’s Senate debate was whether any of the 22 Democratic senators would vote against the budget plan.

Senate President Donald E. Williams, D-Brooklyn, told reporters shortly before 8:30 p.m. that 19 Democrats would support the budget. The final vote was 19-17. Three Democrats voted against the budget plan — Joan V. Hartley of Waterbury, Paul R. Doyle of Wethersfield and Gayle S. Slossberg of Milford. Malloy and Democratic leaders had to abandon an earlier plan to redefine the spending cap because of opposition in the Senate. Instead, the budget plan shifts $5.2 billion in Medicaid spending and another $1.2 billion in other federal funding from under the cap. It changes how this money is budgeted.

Republican senators said Malloy and the Democrats had to take this step because they are unwilling to prioritize and cut spending.

“We are not showing fiscal restraint,” said Sen. Robert J. Kane, R-Watertown, the ranking Senate Republican on the Appropriations Committee. Several branded the changes to the spending a shell game. Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, labeled it a betrayal.

The spending cap was adopted when the state enacted a personal income tax in 1991 as a check against runaway spending. It has been in effect since voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1992.

“This was a sacred deal made with the people of Connecticut,” McKinney said.

Senate Democrats offered the same justifications for moving the Medicaid spending from under the spending cap that House counterparts did.

Sen. Toni N. Harp said Connecticut is alone in counting Medicaid in its state budget. She co-chairs the budget-writing Appropriations Committee. Harp said the revision is also being proposed because the state will be receiving additional Medicaid funding through the federal health care law. On the revenue side, the budget plan continues three temporary taxes that were set to expire and lets stand a scheduled increase in a gasoline tax that Republicans want to rescind. The Democratic budget sweeps more than $110 million from the Special Transportation Fund over two years — $91.3 million in the first year and $18.4 million in the second year. Additionally, the budget allows the use of up to $220.8 million from an anticipated surplus in this year’s budget to supplement state spending. It makes $190.8 million available in the first year and $30 million in the second. Malloy had initially proposed to place any surplus in the state’s rainy day fund.