The General Assembly met in special session Monday to consider two bills.
One bill attempted to plug the more than $300 million budget deficit with $157 million in federal Medicaid funds, $6 million in spending cuts, a tax amnesty program it expects to bring in $40 million, in addition to delaying several new initiatives. In the end lawmakers reduced the deficit by about $71.8 million.
The second bill it passed allows municipalities to use the state’s purchasing power, establish a local tax amnesty program, and provide protections for tenants living in foreclosed properties. That bill passed the state Senate 31-3 and 141-0 in the House.
The House passed the Democratic majority’s budget reduction plan by a vote of 141-1. The Senate passed it 34-0. The plan was $14.2 million less than the plan Gov. M. Jodi Rell put forward in October.
“The reality is that the cuts only get more difficult from here on out,” Rell said in a statement late Monday night.
“These actions do not bode well for the ability of the Legislature to confront the difficult decisions that will be required to protect Connecticut’s future in the face of $6 billion in budget deficits over the next two years.” Rell added.
Rell’s Republican colleagues in the House agreed.
“We’re not mitigating this deficit,” Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, the lone lawmaker to vote against the bill, said. In the face of a $6 billion budget deficit over the next two years,” we’re taking baby steps,” he said. He said he thinks the Republican Party made it very clear with its amendments “we feel we have failed to do more.”
Putting it bluntly, Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said “No one in this chamber, no one you know in your life can remember when the fiscal state of this state was as bad as it is right now.” He said the Democratic majority is nuts if it thinks president-elect Barack Obama is going to give the state enough money to get it out of this mess. He said even if that fantasy does come true the state would still have about a $1.2 billion deficit because “that’s how bad things are.”
“I don’t think we can afford to go away and know we only did half the job,” Cafero said.
Majority Leader Chris Donovan, who will be promoted to Speaker of the House in January, said lawmakers know the state is facing difficult fiscal times. He said there are signals from Washington “that there’s help on the way.” And he said he thinks what the General Assembly did Monday “was a good first step.”
Democratic leaders decided earlier in the day that the General Assembly would not debate the $13.8 million in unclaimed bottle deposits.
Rep. Cameron Staples, D-New Haven, who co-chairs the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee, said the deficit reduction bill which passed Monday requires the receipts of the unclaimed bottles to be reported to the state, so it knows by mid-March how much money the soda and beer distributors are collecting.
The bill also eliminated the Office of the Business Advocate and rolled it into the Department of Economic and Community Development. The Office of the Business Advocate was created shortly after Republican Rob Simmons lost his Congressional campaign to US Rep. Joe Courtney. Simmons will remain the state’s Business Advocate, however, his budget will be cut in half.
Cafero said he thinks the state has too many advocates period. He said the state should start thinking about consolidating all the advocates including the Child Advocate, Victim Advocate, HealthCare Advocate, etc. He said it should also do the same with all the commissions, including the Permanent Commission on Women, African-American Affairs Commission, Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, etc.