Sen. Miner: ‘…this budget isn’t in balance.’ [Greenwich Time]

April 22, 2021

From the Greenwich Time:


Majority Democrats in the General Assembly have targeted about 20 percent of Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposed budget for changes, including more funding for nonprofit social service providers, in a two-year $46-billion spending plan that would use $1.7 billion in anticipated federal support.

The legislative Appropriations Committee Wednesday night approved spending increases of 1.8 percent in the fiscal year that starts July 1, then 3.7 percent more in the second year. The tax-writing Finance Committee is scheduled Thursday to vote on revenue items to pay for the spending.

Both packages will become part of the negotiations with Lamont and his staff in the weeks heading toward the June 9 legislative adjournment. Shortly before 7 p.m., Lamont issued a critical statement, warning that the budget would exceed the state spending cap and leave Connecticut in fiscal trouble in mid-2023.

At the same time, state Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, ranking member of the committee, voiced similar concerns on $128 million approved earlier to fund current agency deficits. Democratic committee leaders did not want to include deficiency items, including a $50 million bailout of the troubled University of Connecticut Health Center in the next biennium budget.

Miner noted that he was happy with some things in the budget, like the planned increase of monthly incidental expenses for nursing home residents from the current $60 to $75.

But Miner was deeply concerned about the alleged dodge around the spending cap. “Without that deficiency bill, this budget isn’t in balance,” said Miner, stressing that it reminded him of the budget crisis of several years back. And the state could face sharp budget shortfalls after the biennium, he warned. “Today it is not something I can support,” Miner said.

Max Reiss, Lamont’s communications director, stressed that the state’s financial standing, including a rare improvement in its bond rating, could be at stake.

“The governor has concerns with this Appropriations Committee budget as they relate to the spending cap and built in deficits well into the future,” Reiss said just before the committee’s sharply partisan vote. “As the governor has said, this is only the second inning of a nine-inning game, and he is eager to engage with leadership in the General Assembly.”

Reiss said that Lamont will soon offer his ideas on the use of funds under the American Recovery Plan, including public-service investments, tens of millions of dollars for distressed communities and educational initiatives.

State Rep. Toni Walker and Sen. Cathy Osten, co-chairwomen of the Appropriations Committee, said the spending plan includes major commitments toward equity for underserved communities, the unemployed and social service agencies.

More support for low-income families, debt-free community college and a new office within the state Department of Labor to help residents navigate unemployment services, are among the initiatives. Possibly the centerpiece of the legislation is a seven-year plan to help the nonprofit providers that the state has leaned on for decades, in housing the state’s disabled and needy, including the more than 700 group homes licensed by the state Department of Developmental Services.

Osten, D-Sprague, said that about $244 million from the current budget surplus would be used as right away as “an infusion” for nonprofits.

“By doing that, the state has saved a lot of real dollars, but the private nonprofits are now having a hard time making ends meet,” Osten said during a morning briefing for State Capitol reporters. “Their workers often qualify for food stamps or heating assistance, and often are working two or three jobs.”

During the budget year starting July 1, $50 million would go to the nonprofits, while in the two subsequent years $30 million a year would go to the services. In addition $10 million in each year of the biennium for state and federal Medicaid recipients. The pattern would continue for four more years. In addition, once the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan wins approval in Washington, $30 million more would go to the agencies over the next three years.

Nonprofit agencies say they need about $461 million to stay viable after a year of COVID-related expenses.

Gian Carl Casa, President and CEO of CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, in an initial reaction to the budget, called it “a remarkable and historic investment” that would be felt throughout the state.

“Connecticut has increasingly relied on community-based nonprofits to provide a wide range of services since closing state-run institutions more than 30 years ago,” Casa said in a statement. “But in that time, funding for nonprofits, which contract with the state, has never kept pace with demand and increasing costs.”

“Our budget responds to this defining moment in history,” said Walker, D-New Haven. “The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the vital importance of government investment in our society and safety net, our healthcare system and most importantly the residents who live in this state.”

The spending package would total $22.6 billion in the first year and $23.4 in the second year of the biennium, about equal to Lamont’s proposal, without counting some additional expenditures in the current fiscal year that Democrats were including in the actions of the Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

When committee members finally began debate on the budget shortly after 6 p.m., Republicans led by Rep. Whitt Betts of Bristol said they were concerned about the levels of funding. Betts, in his sixth term, recalled that previous efforts to create free community college failed for lack of a funding source, and the current source — the planned internet lottery — will take some


The budget would set aside $29 million from online lottery revenue to provide debt-free community college.

“I just don’t think it’s fair or smart to make another promise to spend money that we’re not authorized to do,” said Betts, adding that he is also worried about the annual deficit that the UConn Health Center generates. Betts also criticized the planned $50 million bailout of the health center in Farmington. “I don’t know why we are subsidizing something that loses this much money,” Betts said.

According to an analysis of the proposal by the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis, the budget would be $2.4 million under the spending cap in the first year and $15.6 million the following year, pending an additional $7.6 million expenditure in the current fiscal year, from accounts that may not be included in the overall budget’s bottom line, in another apparent avoidance of the state’s spending cap.

The budget includes raises for nonpartisan legislative staff equal to unionized state workers. Millions of dollars are included in anticipation of a new adult-use marijuana program, to set up a regulatory structure, including more than 60 new jobs in the Department of Consumer Protection, which operates the state’s medical cannabis program, which services 50,000 patients.

Under the budget proposal, the formula for local public school funding would include an additional $108 million over the two years, plus an additional $14 million for school systems with poorer students and English language learners. Community colleges would get $45 million to pay down unfunded debt, while, the State University system would receive $17 million and UConn, $15 million.

The six-year-old municipal revenue sharing program, which uses one-half of 1 percent of the sales tax, but which has never been fully funded, would divert $377 million to cities and towns that support tax-exempt property. Bridgeport would collect an additional $6.2 million over the biennium, while New Haven would be given $30.4 million.

The Democrats’ budget would give local health districts with grants of more than $5 million, and eliminate costly telephone-call charges for state prison inmates. It would provide $15.4 million in the first year and $41.5 million in second to hire more staff for inmate medical services.

Danbury and Norwalk schools would nearly $1.2 million budget to start test programs to attract suburban students to their urban districts. Vocational-Agriculture high schools would get $7.4 million to increase per-pupil grants.