After three months, three weeks and three days of statewide fiscal uncertainty, Connecticut legislators came to a bipartisan agreement on a state budget in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Lawmakers expect the bill to pass in both chambers of the General Assembly before Friday afternoon. If approved, the budget will make its way to Gov. Dannel Malloy’s desk, where it will await his signature. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill on Wednesday, and the House will likely hold a vote on Thursday. The proposed two-year budget will reach the chambers’ floors just days before an executive order from Malloy would go into effect, enacting deep spending cuts across the state.
“Overall, it’s a good budget for local education, for municipalities, for the state, [and] for Care 4 Kids,” state Rep. Dave Yaccarino, R-North Haven, said. “There are a couple concerns, but we’re going to try to iron those out.”
A Republican-led budget passed both chambers of Connecticut’s legislature in mid-September, but Malloy vetoed the bill, and Republican lawmakers failed to garner enough support to override the veto.
Bipartisan negotiations picked up early this month, and a tentative framework for the budget was announced last week.
In an atypical move, the governor was excluded from budgetary meetings during the last few weeks of negotiations as relations between Malloy’s office and Republican legislators have grown strained. Last week, after the governor criticized the assembly’s bipartisan deal, Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Len Fasano called the governor “an irrelevant leader trying to make himself relevant.” As of July, Malloy was the most unpopular Democratic governor in the country, with a 64 percent disapproval rating.
According to Yaccarino, Malloy will likely veto the budget, kicking the bill back to the legislature. But unlike the last time the governor rejected a budget deal passed in both houses of the assembly, Yaccarino thinks that the leaderships from both parties can now muster enough support to override the veto.
The new budget retains much of the framework included in last month’s Republican-initiated bill, Yaccarino said. One of the main stumbling blocks in the earlier budget — changes to state employee pensions — was cut from the version now under consideration, but the University of Connecticut still stands to lose more than $130 million in state funding over the next two years.
Several other Republican ideas remain in the bill, including caps on spending and borrowing. The budget would not increase tax rates for those in the upper brackets of income.
Democrats won several victories of their own, however, including a reduction of the state’s property tax credit for homeowners and an increase on the cigarette tax. The proposed budget also keeps a property tax on cars intact, which some lawmakers wanted to phase out, though proponents argued the tax serves as a major source of revenue for municipalities.
The budget impasse, which lasted 116 days after the previous budget expired on June 30, was the longest in Connecticut history. Many lawmakers and analysts have suggested this delay is the result of near equal representation of Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly, as well as the looming $3.5 billion deficit projected for the next two fiscal years.
Connecticut has operated under executive orders enacted by Malloy since July 1. If the budget fails, an executive order is due to take effect in November, which would cut all state funding for public education in 85 towns, among other drastic cuts.
The absence of a budget bred uncertainty for New Haven officials and residents, especially regarding public education, according to mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer.
“There were payments to the city that had been withheld, prompting the city to take extraordinary measures of its own to ensure adequate cash reserves for payroll and other necessary expenditures,” Grotheer said.
He added that city officials hope the budget will not include cuts to New Haven’s state aid, especially because state law prohibits the city from raising sufficient revenue for the services that it provides to its residents.
For Yale students in particular, reduced state funding for higher education is a major flaw in the budget as it stands.
“I know that people who go to UConn or other state colleges and universities have been very active in trying to prevent these cuts from being made because that’s probably going to result in tuition hikes,” Makayla Haussler ’19 said. “Public universities are oftentimes the most affordable, especially for people who are coming from in state. That can be a huge barrier to entry for a lot of students.”
The final bill is estimated to be around 1,000 pages long.
Nathalie Bussemaker | firstname.lastname@example.org