Legislative leaders and the governor agree on a spending deal for the next budget cycle. Time to digest the details.
Legislators buzzed Tuesday morning as details of a spending deal between Gov. Jodi Rell’s office and Democratic leadership made the rounds of the state Capitol.Already controversial: An agreement by Democratic negotiators to impose a $25 per month fee for residents on HUSKY, the state’s health insurance program for low income individuals, along with a $1 co-pay for each visit to the doctor. In return, the governor has agreed to maintain eligibility for the popular program at 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines, which means thousands of participants can remain on the rolls. Democrats also agreed to less municipal aid than they had proposed in a budget that passed the Appropriations Committee. While some sources believed it was $100 million less, Appropriations co-chair Denise Merrill (D-Storrs) could not confirm that number this morning.However, Merrill did say that bottom line of the spending side of the budget will be very close to the $15.27 billion Rell had proposed. The Democrats’ Appropriations budget had come in $260 million greater. That means surplus dollars will be used to pay for the extension of HUSKY benefits, a trick sure to anger fiscal conservatives.As for the $25 a month HUSKY fee, state Rep. David McCluskey (D-West Hartford) believes the device would bring in so little money that it should be eliminated. Indeed, multiple progressive Democrats discussed “beating back” the idea at a caucus scheduled for this afternoon. McCluskey questioned whether people will be kicked off the insurance rolls if they miss a payment, which would force them into emergency rooms for routine care and cost the state much more than the $25 fee.Merrill says the $25 fee was the administration’s idea, but says it may not be possible to implement because the federal government may require a waiver.“Do I like it? No,” McCluskey said of the fee. “Can I swallow it? I don’t know.“The West Hartford Democrat did not criticize the overall spending deal, saying that the ultimate test will be what leaders hammer out on taxes. If Rell agrees to a more progressive income tax, instead of hiking regressive sin taxes on cigarettes and alcohol, then the concessions on the spending side could be more palatable, he said.Legislative leaders are slated to meet with the administration to discuss taxes later today.