Connecticut gets a budget

It appears Connecticut finally has a state budget, nearly four months late.

We’re still trying to fully decipher what kind of budget, as is Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Left out of the budget negotiations, the governor must decide whether to sign it. It probably doesn’t much matter. The 33-3 approval margin in the Senate and 126-23 in the House far exceed the two-thirds votes necessary to override a Malloy veto.

On the positive side, the $41.3 billion two-year budget had bipartisan support. You don’t see that very often these days.

Retroactive to July 1, it does not raise the income or sales tax. The spending increases — 3.8 percent the first year a bit under 1 percent the second — are reasonable and driven largely by fixed retirement and debt obligations.

Those increases do not include the spending and revenue tied to a new hospital tax. Part of a complicated fiscal exercise, it is intended to tap more federal Medicaid reimbursements, return the tax collected to the hospitals, and find $137 million in new revenues for Connecticut in the process. We’ll believe that when we see it.

The budget eliminates imagined savings tied to anticipated pension reforms when the existing state labor contract expires in 2027. Included in a prior budget plan, subsequently vetoed by the governor, it would have been a return to past mistakes.

Towns and cities are not hit with the deep cuts in state aid that Malloy had recommended, which should avoid local property tax increases.

Included are fiscal reforms this newspaper has long advocated. The legislature will have to vote on state labor contracts and own up to them, not allow approval via inaction. Changed binding arbitration rules should protect municipalities from budget-busting mediation decisions. And local officials will get more flexibility when seeking bids for smaller construction projects, free of a mandate to pay higher “prevailing wages.”

There are tax increases, bringing in $350 million over two years, not counting the hospital tax scheme. Cigarette users will pay 45 cents more for a pack of smokes. A plan to tax fantasy sports will be rolled out.

Among the most distressing moves is taking $63.5 million from the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund and $14 million from the Green Bank and sticking it in the general fund. The state collected that money from electric bill fees to promote efficiency and renewable power generation. It helped create jobs in the process. Moving the money is an improper bait and switch.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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