The legislature’s Republican minority unveiled a budget proposal Thursday that does not raise taxes, but which again falls short—by $700 million—of closing the deficit projected by the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis.
The Republican proposal closes an $8.1 billion budget deficit, which is $2.1 billion closer to the mark than the $6 billion budget deficit Gov. M. Jodi Rell closed when she released her budget in February. However, OFA says the deficit is $8.7 billion.
The Republican budget proposal suggests no tax increases and does not cut municipal aid, but it does include the $160 million in fee increases on various licenses and permits which Rell included in her budget proposal. The proposal also assumes an 18 month wage freeze for all state employees, requires them to take six furlough days, and asks them to pay higher co-pays for doctors visits and prescriptions drugs, but does not call for layoffs.
In addition the Republican budget proposal uses all of Rell’s proposed spending cuts, along with those Democratic lawmakers made April 2.
Republican legislative leaders said the only exception to the spending cuts was a $16 million increase in Town Aid Road, a grant municipalities use for road construction and repaving projects. Republican lawmakers also restored the resident state trooper program and relieved cities and towns from implementing unfunded mandates.
The Republican budget also restores the $500 property tax credit, which Democratic lawmakers phased out for anyone making more than $47,700 per year. Currently those who make under $100,000 per year receive the full $500 credit.
In addition to deep cuts in spending Republicans folded 23 state agencies into six, used all the federal stimulus money, and eliminated the $60 million Citizens Election Fund, which helps candidates finance their campaigns.
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Southport, said the governor’s budget, which did not propose any tax increases, “put us on the right path.”
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said the state must not raise taxes.
“We have to make tough decisions,” Cafero said.
Republicans contend that their budget includes some of those tough decisions, which they say Democratic lawmakers were unwilling to make, opting instead to increase taxes $3.25 billion.
But Cafero says the Republican plan cuts $1 billion more than that of the Democrats by rolling spending levels back to 2007.
“We as a state always have an obligation, an obligation to those who can’t care for themselves, those who need a helping hand, those who are the most needy of our citizenry while still maintaining services to everyone else,” Cafero said. “We looked to the year 2007. That’s a year that we lived under and a budget we lived under just 22 months ago. What was life like in Connecticut for those in need in 2007? Was it a bad life? Did we as a state ignore the needs of our neediest citizens? No. In fact, in 2007 like today, we are proud to say that Connecticut is one of the most compassionate, generous, fair states to the neediest of our citizens and we will continue to be so. But like everyone else we have to cut back. So what we did was we went to the appropriated levels for the year 2007, just 22 months ago. And we said ‘that’s how we have to live and make government more affordable.’”
Based on the Tea Party demonstrations on Wednesday, Cafero said people are telling the legislature that “‘we can’t afford our government anymore. You’ve got to make it more affordable.’ And that’s what we did.”
Democratic leaders applauded Republicans for recognizing more of the budget deficit than Rell at a press conference shortly after the third budget proposal was released.
Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said the Republican budget represented “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” He said it’s good that Republicans are acknowledging a budget deficit which far exceeds what Rell recognized when she presented her budget in February.
The bad is that it doesn’t go far enough in eliminating the project $8.7 billion budget deficit, he said. It falls about $600 to $700 million short, Williams said.
If things get worse and the deficit continues to grow, Republicans said they would look at selling off state assets such as its six airports or excess state property.
Williams said this was some of the ugly. “This is not the time to sell Connecticut on the cheap,” he said. “By doing that I think we would lose critical resources and assets. We would get paid pennies on the dollar in terms of what they’re truly worth.”
He said there are also some cuts Republicans made they know they can’t do. He said cuts to Medicaid and energy funds would jeopardize federal stimulus dollars.
Both Democrats and Republicans said they are expected to sit down with Rell next week and start budget negotiations.