The Connecticut General Assembly this week passed a state budget with overwhelming majorities in both chambers, concluding one of the final chapters in the fiscal drama that has left the state in fiscal crisis for the past four months.
The bill passed the Senate at around 2 a.m. on Thursday morning by a 33–3 vote, and then passed the House of Representatives at around 12:45 p.m. on Thursday. The budget, which would close the state’s $3.5 billion fiscal gap, is now under review by Gov. Dannel Malloy’s office. But whatever Malloy decides, both chambers of the legislature have a strong majority capable of overriding a veto.
“I don’t think anyone could have predicted that there really is a sense of extraordinarily significant achievement in what we have been able to reach together,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, in a speech before the state Senate shortly before the it passed the bill.
He added that the process of crafting the bill has been a long and arduous one, which started more than eight months ago, when Malloy first proposed a budget for the 2018–19 fiscal year.
Staff in the office of the governor are analyzing the plan’s merits and flaws in order to allow Malloy to make an informed decision about whether or not to sign the bill, according to a statement from gubernatorial Communications Director Kelly Donnelly.
“It is incumbent on the Governor and his administration to carefully review this budget — a complete document of nearly 900 pages that was made available only a few minutes before it was called on the floor,” the statement said.
According to the statement, gubernatorial staff have “already uncovered egregious problems relating to the hospital tax that could put the state budget out of balance by over a billion dollars.”
One of the most controversial aspects of the bill is the reduction in funding for the University of Connecticut, which will lose $130 million over the next two years. According to UConn spokesman Tom Breen, university officials are relieved that the cuts are not as high as those in an earlier budget, which passed both houses in September before Malloy vetoed it. That bill would have resulted in loss es totaling more than $309 million in funding for the university. But the cuts are still greater than the $100 million reduction that the university had calculated into its budget in anticipation of the new state funding plan.
“It’s better than the worst-case scenario, but it’s still going to be difficult,” Breen said.
University officials have not yet decided exactly where cuts will occur, Breen added, but possibilities include a hiring freeze and delays in construction and renovations.
Other cuts in the state budget will affect state municipal aid, which will be slashed $33.9 million this fiscal year. New Haven will not see any cuts in municipal aid for the coming year, nor will the other 29 lowest-performing districts in the state in terms of education.
According to state Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, one of three state senators to vote against the bill, the proposed budget falls short of its duty to Connecticut residents. Many lawmakers have extolled the bill on the basis of its bipartisanship rather than its actual benefits and drawbacks, Winfield said.
“Just because something is bipartisan doesn’t make it good,” he said. “There is nothing inherently good about bipartisanship, and there is nothing inherently good about partisanship.”
Major shortcomings of the bill include cuts to the state’s greenhouse gas initiative and energy efficiency fund, as well as measures that put the health insurance of thousands of residents in jeopardy, Winfield added.
Most lawmakers, however, found the budget an adequate albeit imperfect solution to the state’s fiscal crisis.
“It is by no means a perfect budget, but in our situation, with the deficit that we had, there were going to be some ugly cuts in it,” said Rep. Dave Yaccarino, R-North Haven. “Our goal is to do the most good for the most people, and I think this budget does do that.”
Connecticut is the only state in the country yet to pass a budget for this fiscal year.
Nathalie Bussemaker | firstname.lastname@example.org