The House spent more than four hours Monday evening debating the $37.6 billion two-year budget proposal, which increases taxes on the state’s wealthiest residents, reduces the sales tax, modifies the estate tax, and reduces spending by an estimated $400 million.
The vote was 103 to 45. Nine Democratic lawmakers joined the Republican caucus in opposing the proposal.
While it passed, several lawmakers felt it failed to cut enough spending, relied too heavily on borrowing, and some even felt it didn’t raise enough revenue.
“This budget is a recipe for disaster,” Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, said. “We’ll be back in here in two months if projections don’t stay where they are.”
Miner talked about the budget’s precarious spending and revenue projections, which rely heavily on future legislative and executive action.
It also relies on the habits of Connecticut’s residents. He said if a certain percentage of smokers decide to stop because the state is increasing the cigarette tax from $2 to $3 per pack, then the budget won’t balance. And if a few millionaires decide to move out of the state the budget projections won’t add up, he said.
“I’m tired, just like you, of being beat up for not getting a budget,” Rep. Linda Schofield, D-Simsbury, said. But as frustrated as she was with the lack of a budget Schofield said she couldn’t vote for the one her party put forward Monday evening.
Schofield was uncomfortable with securitizing $1.3 billion from a yet “undefined revenue stream.” The budget includes a proposal to borrow $1.3 billion against a revenue stream that it has yet to be defined.
“We don’t know where it’s going to come from,” Schofield said.
Based on estimates from the Office of Fiscal Analysis the state will need to make between $200 million and $150 million in payments each year on that $1.3 billion in debt until 2021.
She said the legislature used to fund a lot of its budget without putting operating expenses and other projects on the state’s credit card. “It’s politically expedient, but its not fiscally prudent,” Schofield said.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said if the legislature’s budget projections don’t come to fruition, then it will be back in the chamber saying it didn’t raise enough money. And who is going to suffer at that point, “the middle class,” Cafero concluded.
“If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it,” Cafero said. “How much better off would we be if we were to heed those simple words.”
Following the vote, Cafero pointed out that at the last minute Democrats called an amendment, which added back $26 million in “pork,” for specific lawmakers, in hopes of winning their vote on the final package. Some of the new funding went to a YMCA in Westbrook, a food pantry in Manchester and put back the increase in bus fares that Rell had proposed earlier this year. Democrats rallied against the increase in bus fares earlier this year, but tossed riders under the bus tonight, Cafero said.
Democrats said they may have cut public transit funds, but did not propose a fare increase.
“We did not cause the problem,” Majority Leader Denise Merrill, D-Mansfield, said referring to the recession. “We have a revenue problem that’s what this is.”
“We only found out we couldn’t afford the things we need to do a few months ago,” she said.
“In the end what we wanted was a shared burden,” Merrill said. “I think the people of the state understand this problem.”
She said the cuts are deeper than she would like, but it balances many interests.
The Senate still has to vote on the budget and it’s been unclear all day if Rell will sign it. Cafero said he hopes she vetoes it, but Democratic lawmakers felt it was a good compromise.