Legislators meet to review state budget before Wednesday deadline

Hartford — Legislators convened at the Capitol on Saturday to vote on numerous bills, including the two-year state budget before the House of Representatives and a compromise bill the Senate passed Saturday evening on the labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients.

“We wanted to make sure that we were not raising taxes on the taxpayers in Connecticut while also creating a responsible budget taking care of those things that we needed to take care of,” said House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden.

Budget discussions had not yet started on the floor of the House as of 10 p.m., but they were expected to take place overnight. Lawmakers face a midnight Wednesday deadline for adjournment.

Few details of the Democrats’ budget (House bill 6704) had been released to journalists or Republicans by Saturday evening. Legislators and the governor’s administration were scrambling last week to find new revenue sources after a controversial energy auction that would have generated about $80 million in revenue was taken off the table Friday night.

Authorizing the Connecticut Lottery to introduce keno, a game of chance that has been exclusively the domain of the tribally owned casinos Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, is one of those recently added revenue sources, Sharkey said.

Introducing keno would add $4 million in fiscal year 2014 and $27 million in fiscal year 2015, said Larry Perosino, a spokesman for House Democrats.

Sharkey said keno was in the budget because “this is a difficult budget.”

“We had to look at other alternative sources, and this is something we have considered for years now,” Sharkey said.

But President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, and Senate Minority Leader, John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said they were both opposed to adding keno to the lottery system.

“If our budget depends on and our economic recovery depends on an expansion of gambling, we are in big trouble,” McKinney said.

A tax on energy generators, including Millstone Power Station in Waterford, has been in the budget for several years and remains there, Williams and Sharkey said Saturday.

But they both said the plan is to phase out the tax in fiscal year 2014.

State Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Oakdale, said the last estimate he saw showed the tax would go on for the first quarter of fiscal year 2014 and bring in about $17.5 million in revenue. Previous estimates showed a revenue stream of $30 million in fiscal year 2014.

The tax brought in about $70 million last year.

“I keep hearing the governor say there are no taxes in his budget, but it seems we are adding up a lot of taxes,” McKinney said, referring to the energy-generation tax.

On the spending side, Sharkey said the budget was about the same amount as was last proposed by the Appropriations Committee, which was about $43.8 billion over two years.

The Senate expects to vote on the budget Monday, Williams said.

GMO labeling compromise

Legislators also took action Saturday on bills that ranged from a Senate vote to allow Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal police departments to establish expanded law enforcement authority, to a House vote to prohibit “excessive” price increases for goods and services that are sold during a weather emergency.

Both bills now move on to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for his signature.

Another significant bill legislators acted on Saturday was an amended bill on genetically modified organisms, House Bill 6527.

The House and the Senate had previously passed different GMO labeling bills, but the two legislative bodies reached an agreement, and the Senate passed a compromise bill Saturday.

The compromise bill would take effect once at least four other states — including one bordering Connecticut — passed similar GMO legislation. Additionally, a combination of states in the Northeast with a total population of at least 20 million people must approve similar labeling laws.

Manufacturers had been concerned that if Connecticut acted alone, creating a separate label distribution for just Connecticut would be too costly for them, McKinney said.

The GMO bill heads next to the House.



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