Connecticut lawmakers at odds over new state budget

HARTFORD (AP) — Connecticut lawmakers appeared at odds Friday over what changes should be made to the budget for next fiscal year with time quickly running out on the legislative session and leaders accusing each other of election-year politics.

The situation was reminiscent of last year's impasse, when it took the General Assembly until October to pass a bipartisan two-year state budget.

Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano remained optimistic, however, saying there's always a chance a bipartisan deal can be reached before the 2018 legislative session ends at midnight May 9.

"I think we showed last year that a lot of folks who doubted our ability to put a deal together — and I think when I checked the odds board, it was against us entirely — but we did it," Fasano said. "So, I think that we'll have conversations very shortly."

Democrats and Republicans debated dueling proposals in the Appropriations Committee on Friday that make changes to the second year of the state budget, which begins July 1. To make matters more confusing, Democratic House members successfully "split" the joint committee, allowing only House members — not senators — to vote on the Democrats' $20.8 billion plan, which they insisted was the result of bipartisan efforts. While it passed on a partisan, 21-19 vote, the bill's fate is uncertain.

The committee later debated a $20.4 billion Republican budget. It failed by two votes, also along party lines.

Ultimately, ideas from both plans will likely become part of a final agreement that will be negotiated behind closed doors by legislative leaders and presented to the full General Assembly for a vote.

Friday's debate in the budget-writing committee fell on the same day Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's office announced the current fiscal year is now projected to end with a $363.5 million deficit. That marks a $178 million increase from last month. It's partly being attributed to an assumption the federal government will delay a decision on the state's request for reimbursement for budgeted increases in hospital rates.

Despite the bad deficit news, the state did collect higher-than-expected income tax revenues for April. Malloy urged Democrats and Republicans to set those funds aside in the state's budget reserve account, which he predicted could be boosted to more than $1 billion.

"This is one-time money in a state that has a very low rainy day fund," said Malloy, who is serving his final term in office. "The best use of this money on this day is to fund the rainy day fund. A downturn is coming."

The Democratic budget sent to the House of Representatives on Friday spends $216 million more than what was approved last year and about $146 million more than what Malloy proposed in his February budget. It includes more money for the Department of Veterans Affairs, municipal aid, developmental disability services and local and higher education. It also kick-starts a program designed to ultimately provide free college.

The Republican plan makes across-the-board cuts to some accounts, privatizes more state services, reduces the corporate tax surcharge and eliminates $20 million in fee increases. Both plans have some similarities, such as protecting higher education scholarship money and restoring money to a program that helps thousands of elderly and people with disabilities cover Medicare-related costs.

Fasano claimed the Democratic budget would require tax increases, calling it "an election-year political ploy."

Meanwhile, Democratic House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz accused the GOP of conducting "obvious election-year tactics" with its budget proposal.



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