It was a long day of twists and turns as Senators tried to erase this year’s more than $500 million budget deficit. In the end the Democratic majority didn’t pass its proposal by a veto proof margin, despite Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s veto threat.
At 5:20 a.m. in the morning the Senate passed the bill 21 to 15 with three Democratic Senators joining Republicans in voting against it.
Sen. Jonathan Harris of West Hartford, Sen. Joan Hartley of Waterbury, and Sen. Gayle Slossberg of Milford voted against the deficit-cutting plan.
“I had a real problem with the hospital tax,” Harris said after the vote. “It‘s counter-intuitive to have a tax on health care.”
Meanwhile, it was unclear if the House would take up the Democratic deficit mitigation plan later today since there wasn’t enough support in the Senate to override a gubernatorial veto, but staffers were busy putting the bills on lawmakers desks.
Rep. John Geragosian, D-New Britain, who was monitoring the situation and getting briefed on the bill which was drafted Friday evening, said things were too fluid to say with any certainty.
“I think we’ll come in regardless,” Geragosian said outside the Senate chamber early Saturday morning. In the end the House decided not to convene, but hasn’t ruled out a vote in the future.
Late Friday night before debate on the bill had even begun Rell threatened to veto the Democratic deficit mitigation proposal, so the Senate Democrats decided to run the governor’s deficit mitigation plan to show how little support there was for it.
“The Democrats were upset with the governor’s call for a veto so they brought out her plan to embarrass the governor,“ Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said early Saturday morning.
Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, wondered why the Senate was spending a lot of time in the middle of the night debating a bill that’s not going anywhere. He said there’s a lot of stuff in the governor’s plan that he doesn’t like, but when all the options are unappetizing “you can’t not eat.”
Most of the objection to the governor’s bill included comments by both parties about the hospital tax and cuts to municipal aid.
The vote on governor’s deficit mitigation plan failed by a vote of 8 to 28, shortly after 3 a.m. Saturday morning.
Rell, who is currently in Colorado, said in a statement late Friday evening that the Democratic package was “woefully short on real spending cuts and burdensomely high on tax increases.”
Rell’s Budget Director Robert Genuario visited the Capitol press room to deliver her veto message around 11 p.m. Friday evening. He said the Democratic bill includes about $65 million in real spending reductions, $10 million in new taxes, and $175 million in other types of new revenue.
Democratic lawmakers argued that their bill includes $140 million in spending cuts, sweeps $50 million from off-budget accounts including $6 million from the Citizens‘ Election Program, gets rid of the longevity payments for non-union employees and as of July 1 eliminates almost two dozen of Rell’s deputy commissioners.
In addition it relies on $75 million in new revenue by retroactively eliminating the Jan. 1 estate tax reduction. It also reinstitutes a hospital tax to help bring in more than $103 million in additional federal funds.
The Democratic package itself was a last-minute agreement between Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate, and includes some of the proposed spending cuts Rell suggested in her March 1 plan.
Democratic lawmakers argued their proposal balances the budget in a responsible way with difficult spending cuts to social programs and tax increases on wealthy estates.
Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said they reached into Rell’s deficit mitigation package and took the best ideas and combined them with their own.
In his closing speech in the Senate circle, Williams asked Rell to “reconsider the ill-advised letter she sent.” Williams also chided Rell for being out of state instead of in Hartford negotiating and talking to lawmakers.
Earlier Friday evening Genuario said about $55 million of the Democratic budget is “phantom” and either won’t save the projected dollar amount or won’t create the additional federal revenue.
He said the Democratic plan cuts spending in areas that have already been cut by the governor, which means “they’re double counting.” Other line items like closing a group home, are simply unachievable, he said.
Genuario also isn’t convinced that the increased Medicaid rates for hospitals will result in increased federal reimbursement.
Rell had included a hospital tax in her plan too, but the rate was lower than that included in the Democratic plan. Most of Saturday mornings debate centered around the difference between how the two taxes would be implemented.