Legislative committee adds millions to proposed state budget

Hartford — The General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee passed a $19 billion budget proposal on Thursday for fiscal year 2015, which begins July 1.

The committee voted 26-19, along party lines, to spend $12.3 million more than the governor proposed in February and $50 million more than the legislature and governor approved during last year’s biennium budget. Had the legislature and governor not moved federal Medicaid reimbursements “off budget” last year, the budget would be $22.3 billion.

The committee’s vote covers only the spending side of the budget. The Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee will likely vote on the revenue side on Tuesday. From there, legislative leadership will negotiate with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration to develop and approve a final 2015 budget.

“We tried to make sure that with what little money we had, that we spread it around so that it affected many of the families that we heard from over the, I think, 13 to 14 public hearings that we had over the last few weeks,” said the committee co-chairman for the House, state Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven.

The budget proposal includes new money for New London’s OpSail ($100,000) and additional funds for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) for state-owned property ($5 million among the state’s municipalities) and keeps the governor’s increase of $8 million for the nonprofit colleges and hospitals PILOT program.

Republicans said the budget proposal includes $550 million in “spending tricks” that make it unsustainable going forward. The nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis has reported that next year’s budget has a $70 million budget deficit.

Walker and the other committee co-chairman, State Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said they were proud to have provided funding for people with developmental disabilities, families struggling to find care for relatives and the mental health system in general.

The $100,000 for OpSail would help support the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival, formerly called Schooner Fest, scheduled for Sept. 10-14.

“I can guarantee we are not going to do it, if there isn’t money,” said John Johnson, the board chairman of OpSail Connecticut.

The funds are for “appearance fees,” he said, adding that the visiting schooners are like entertainers and have to make a living. The fees range from $5,000 to $10,000 per vessel. Last year, a board member paid the appearance fee out of pocket for the most notable ship at the festival, the schooner Virginia, Johnson said.

This year, the goal is to bring in the Onrust, a replica of the Dutch ship of Adriaen Block, who was the first European to sail up the Connecticut River in the 1600s.

The budget proposal maintains funding for the Mashantucket Pequot/Mohegan Fund and for school-based health centers. Earlier this month, state Rep. Elissa Wright, D-Groton, and state Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, said that if the funding remained at $12.6 million, Groton should receive funding for two school-based health centers in its elementary schools.

Walker, the committee co-chairman, said she and Bye received more than 1,000 emails related directly to specific topics and heard hours of public testimony. That is why they choose to increase funding by $750,000 for programs such as family support grants, for families with “extraordinary disability-related expenses,” and by $1.9 million for early intervention for newborns to 3-year-olds.

She said Republicans were included in the budget process and that she wished “we would stop trying to make it so partisan.”

State Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, ranking member of the committee, said the biggest problem with the budget proposal is that “we are not being honest about the increase.”

“It is built on bad math at the very least,” said state Rep. Craig Minor, R-Litchfield, who is the ranking member of the committee for the House.

Republicans said the proposal continues to rely on gimmicks, many of which were already included in the biennium budget passed last year. It relies on $51 million in funds from this year’s surplus, a one-time revenue source, for retired state employees’ health care expenses. It also relies on a $65 million “revenue intercept” for Connecticut state colleges and universities — funds that are never built into the appropriations budget.

The budget proposal also continues to delay debt service payments. These moves keep the state’s budget under the spending cap and Republicans said the practices don’t move the state toward Generally Accepted Accounting Principles compliance. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles is a term for an accounting method that matches income earned and expenses incurred in the same period.

“That is what leads to the public’s mistrust of us,” said state Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby. “If you say you are going to do it (GAAP), you need to do it.”

The committee’s budget includes 443 new state positions, 37 more than Malloy proposed.

“Given that we have one of the worst unfunded pension and health care liabilities in the country here in the state of Connecticut, the additional burden that puts on future generations is uncalculated by this current Democratic majority,” said Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield.

The Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee will meet Tuesday to discuss and vote on the revenue half of the budget, which will include topics such as the governor’s proposed $155 million tax rebate, a non-prescription drug tax cut and a tax cut on retired teachers’ pensions.

j.somers@theday.com

 

 

Municipal aid for fiscal year 2015

Canterbury: $5,187,321
East Lyme: $9,023,690
Town of Groton: $30,304,668
Ledyard: $14,842,387
Lyme: $374,760
Montville: $16,991,849
New London: $35,070,826
North Stonington: $4,167,666
Norwich: $41,762,106
Old Lyme: $963,934
Old Saybrook: $1,096,360
Preston: $4,626,676
Salem: $3,470,324
Sprague: $3,295,648
Stonington: $2,683,439
Waterford: $2,386,324

Source: Office of Fiscal Analysis’ review of the Appropriation Committee’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2015

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