By CHRISTOPHER KEATING
Democratic legislators expect to reach a final agreement with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on a two-year, $40 billion budget after months of gridlock and more than two months after the start of a new fiscal year.
No final deal had been struck as of Tuesday evening, but Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney of New Haven told The Courant that the chances are ‚Äúvery good‚Äô‚Äô that the legislature will vote Thursday on a new budget after months of delays.
Malloy, too, said there was progress.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm hopeful, but there‚Äôs no white smoke,‚Äô‚Äô Malloy told reporters at the Capitol. ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs nothing done, but we‚Äôll see where this leads in the coming 48 hours.‚Äô‚Äô
Some details of the deal between Democrats and Malloy that could lead to a narrow passage of a state budget were discussed Monday. While there would be no broad increase of the sales tax as initially proposed, there is a proposal to raise the sales tax for restaurants statewide to 7 percent. There are also proposals to increase the hospital tax and conveyance tax. Republicans have been vehemently opposed to those ideas.
Republicans released their own budget proposal Tuesday as they continued clashing sharply with Democrats over the breakdown of bipartisan talks.
The GOP plan calls for a constitutional spending cap, an annual cap on bonding at $2 billion, mandatory votes on union contracts by the legislature, quicker approvals on environmental applications, and increasing employee contributions to the state pension plan to 7 percent, among others. The no-tax-increase budget would maintain the popular $200 property tax credit that would be cut in budgets by Malloy and Democrats.
The bipartisan negotiations had been proceeding simultaneously with separate negotiations among Democrats in an attempt to reach a budget deal before a scheduled vote Thursday. But Republicans said they were caught off guard when they learned that Democrats had been meeting with Malloy over the weekend ‚ÄĒ with no Republicans present ‚ÄĒ as they tried to end the longest-running budget stalemate in Connecticut history.
Both Malloy and Democrats said that Republicans have routinely voted against a series of budgets that have become law through the years.
‚ÄúFor five two-year budget cycles ‚ÄĒ more than a decade ‚ÄĒ Republicans have reduced themselves to mere spectator status in crafting and adopting a state budget that the people of Connecticut need and deserve. And they have chosen to continue on that path again,‚Äô‚Äô said a joint statement from Democratic Senate leaders Martin Looney of New Haven and Bob Duff of Norwalk.
‚ÄúThey may have a budget that balances revenues and expenditures, but could it receive a majority of votes in the House and Senate? Would it be signed into law by the governor? This is the basic hands-on, legislative craft work that has proven so difficult for so long, and which Democrats and the executive branch have been grappling with. The time for talk is now over, and the time for action has come. We will take action.‚ÄĚ
But Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano of North Haven said the Democratic spending and tax increases have hurt the state‚Äôs economy.
‚ÄúDemocrats once again are incapable of telling the people of Connecticut the truth about budget negotiations,‚ÄĚ Fasano said. ‚ÄúTheir fiscal death grip on this state has choked the life out of Connecticut‚Äôs economy, hurt the poor, starved municipalities and continued to wreak havoc on taxpayers.‚Äô‚Äô
Fasano added, ‚ÄúIt is a shame that they have fallen back to their typical and predictable habits of one-party rule and tried to bully their ill-fated economic policies.‚ÄĚ
With so many moving pieces, some legislators were wondering whether the budget could be cobbled together in time for votes on Thursday. Once a deal is struck, the nonpartisan staff and attorneys generally need 48 hours to craft the complicated legal language and create a bill that is hundreds of pages long ‚ÄĒ plus copying and collating the huge document for distribution.
But Malloy said that process could be sped up because the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis has been working overtime.
‚ÄúI think that this could be done in a 24-hour period of time, for instance, rather than a 48-hour period of time,‚Äô‚Äô Malloy said. ‚ÄúAs I said to the leaders today, ‚ÄėWe‚Äôre running out of time. Get this thing done.‚Äô ‚Äú
Although bringing tolls back to state highways has been rejected previously, there is a proposal to create a new Transportation Finance Authority. Opponents of tolls fear the authority could lead to the creation of tolls.
‚ÄúThe General Assembly should maintain ownership of this move to authorize tolls,‚ÄĚ said Joe Sculley, president of the association representing the trucking industry in Connecticut. ‚ÄúA new, quasi-government entity with no oversight should not be allowed to impose $18 billion in fees on Connecticut residents and businesses over the next 20 years. Authorizing tolls this way is not operating with transparency or accountability.‚Äô‚Äô
Republicans also introduced a plan in their budget to accept a $50 million fee in the current fiscal year and $35 million next year from Dominion Energy, the parent company of the Millstone nuclear power plant in Waterford. Dominion has threatened to close the plant if the legislature does not back a measure broadening its access to electricity markets.
The plan is opposed by Malloy and some Democrats as they fear it could result in higher costs for consumers.
‚ÄúFirst of all, it‚Äôs ratepayers‚Äô money,‚Äô‚Äô said Malloy, who opposes the idea. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre not taking anything away from their stockholders. ‚Ä¶ What the Republicans are doing is endorsing another form of taxation.‚Äô‚Äô
A key issue continued to be the views of a small group of fiscally conservative Democrats, who have held up the votes for months and could swing the vote in either direction. Since the Democrats hold a margin of only 79 to 72 in the House, the loss of four conservative Democrats would drop the total to 75 ‚ÄĒ below the necessary 76 in the 151-member chamber. As such, the moderates in each caucus have been under pressure to vote in favor of the budget and break the logjam.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.