Christine Stuart photo

The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives accepted about two-thirds of Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s proposed $185 million in budget cuts Wednesday night. The Senate had yet to vote on the proposal, but was debating it past midnight.

After four hours of debate, the House voted 111 to 35 to pass about $133 million of Rell’s proposed budget cuts, while Republicans argued that the amount won’t even make a dent in what is expected to be a more than $900 million budget shortfall.

Democratic lawmakers had proposed sparing the $240,000 for the Agricultural Experiment Station and an estimated $116,000 for alternative incarceration program and the judicial education center from the cuts, but changed their minds at the last moment. Rep. John Geragosian, D-New Britain, said they decided it wasn’t worth it to have a fight with Rell over those cuts. 

The state janitors, who have been fighting for their health care benefits under that state’s standard wage law, were spared this time and will receive $274,000 toward the cost of covering those benefits. Geragosian said it would have cost the state $400,000 if those workers and their families were forced onto the state’s Husky insurance program.

The Correction officers who worried the legislature would attempt to reject their arbitrated salary raises were also spared during Wednesday’s debate.

“Tonight was not a good night for us. Tonight was not a good night for the state of Connecticut,” Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said in his closing remarks.

Democrats argued they would like to look at the whole budget instead of making cuts that may or may not affect public policy. There are significant policy issues wrapped up in deficit mitigation proposals, Rep. Cameron Staples, D-New Haven said. And there was “no opportunity to weigh policy implications of many of the proposed changes.”

At the end of the day, “we accepted many of the Governor’s ideas and we offered some of our own,” Majority Leader Denise Merrill, D-Mansfield, said. 

Gov. M. Jodi Rell sent out a statement early Thursday morning saying, “They didn’t make as many cuts as we needed and they added money back – particularly for their own spending – while some of their supposed cuts are based on false assumptions.”

“But at least they have acted, and I will sign the package into law,” she said.

For the first time in 30 years, lawmakers decided to take the nickel deposit away from distributors and wholesalers. In the past lawmakers had been hesitant to take the nickel deposits from more than 500 million unclaimed beer and soda cans, but they argued the budget situation was dire and necessitated the state claiming the estimated $25 million per year.

Rep. Edward Moukawsher, D-Groton, was the only Democratic to vote against the budget because of this provision.

Following the vote he said the bill didn’t take into consideration how much it costs distributors to handle the cans and bottles. He said the bottle distributors and wholesalers are not in the trash business, but the state imposed the regulation on them and now it’s taking it away.

He said the cost of beer is going to go up a $1 or $1.50.

Patrick Sullivan, the lobbyists for the distributors, said for the past 30 years the nickel deposits have been used for recycling. He said consumers will definitely be paying more for this legislation. “We’re paying for the bottle bill twice. It’s not worth paying for once,” he said.