Democratic lawmakers spent most of July in closed-door budget negotiations with Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell. But Friday they took their show back on the road.
With stops in Torrington and Norwich, Democratic lawmakers were out stumping for their budget proposal over Rell’s budget proposal.
Despite a media blackout on budget negotiations, which began in earnest at the end of June, Speaker of the House Chris Donovan said that he doesn’t believe Friday’s press conferences violated the agreement or will jeopardize ongoing discussions.
“The blackout is on actual discussions at the table,” Donovan said. He said it doesn’t prohibit lawmakers from going out and talking about what’s in their budget and what cut’s the governor makes in her budget.
He said the event he intended in Torrington Friday was about letting people know about the “devastating” cuts in Rell’s budget proposal. In Norwich Sen. President Donald Williams talked about Rell’s proposed cuts to school-based health centers.
“I don’t know how the governor can even think of these cuts,” Donovan said.
However some of the cuts he was talking about Friday were also included in at least one of the Democratic budget proposals too.
A proposal to change the definition of medical necessity was also included in the first Democratic budget proposal, but was not included in the one vetoed by Rell. Advocates say changing the definition will restrict access to prescription drugs, medical equipment, dental care, mental health treatment, and medical tests for individuals on Medicaid.
Donovan was in Torrington Friday to talk about more than just the definition of medical necessity. Donovan joined advocates to speak against Rell’s proposals to impose Medicaid cost sharing services, higher co-pays for prescription drugs, access to psychiatric medications, dental coverage, affordable housing and much more.
The major difference between the two budget proposals—an increase in the income tax proposed by the Democratic lawmakers.
Donovan said the Democrats fund more services and pay for it by asking wealthy individuals to pay $20 more a week in taxes.
The Democratic proposal includes increasing the progressive income tax on higher income earners from the current relatively flat 5 percent rate.
Under the Democratic budget a family earning $600,000 a year or $12,000 a week would be asked to pay $20 more per week. Rell has not agreed to an increased income tax, saying the increases in the tobacco, cigarette, and business taxes were all she was ready to support.
Democratic lawmakers have also been working hard at pointing out that Rell’s budget includes more than the $391 million in new taxes. It also includes her previously proposed $133 million increase in licensing fees and permits.
In a press release Williams said that means Rell and Democratic lawmakers are only about $1 billion apart. The Democrats have proposed $1.8 billion in increased taxes and fees, while Rell has proposed a $524 million increase in taxes and fees, Williams said.
“Still, I believe it’s important to note that despite all of the debate about how far apart the governor and Democrats are on a biennial budget, we do agree on about 97 percent of spending,” Williams said. “It’s that final $1 billion of spending on items like Life Star, public libraries, school-based health clinics, magnet school tuition and eyeglasses for the poor that remains a philosophical and fiscal sticking point.”
Republican lawmakers said on Wednesday that its possible to come up with a budget without increasing taxes.
Donovan said by proposing the budget the Republican minority pushed themselves away from the negotiating table. But denied rumors that Democrats were trying to kick Republicans out of the closed-door budget meetings which are set to resume Monday.
Donovan said he welcomed any new budget ideas. When asked if the Democratic majority planned on passing a budget if a compromise couldn’t be reached, Donovan said, “I wouldn’t get there until we get there.” He said he would never make comment on that while negotiations were ongoing.
Click here to read our previous report about the Republican budget proposal.