Last year the General Assembly set a record for the longest period of time the state has been without a budget agreement, but this year is an election year.
The legislature’s Democratic majority in cooperation with Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who is not seeking re-election, passed a $19 billion budget that avoids official tax hikes and borrows close to $1 billion.
Next year’s deficit is estimated at $3.8 billion and the following year’s deficit is estimated at $3.7 billion.
Democratic leaders touted the budget as a bipartisan agreement. Gubernatorial candidates on both sides of the aisle criticized the deal, and at least one Republican lawmaker said he was unhappy with his own party’s governor for working with the Democrats on it.
“I was very disappointed in the governor’s action. There’s no doubt about it,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said Thursday. “I think she could have done more to drive this debate.”
Responding to the criticism of her own party Rell said from the very beginning there were some things she insisted on all along. The public has asked for “no new taxes, try to save our municipal aid, and do the best you can on the borrowing that the state does,” Rell said.
Former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy, a Democrat vying for the Democratic nomination, said in an emailed statement that the budget puts off making the hard decisions.
“Instead, it relies on quick fixes – such as once again raiding the state employees’ pension fund – that do nothing but put off our problems until after the next Governor is sworn in,“ said Malloy.
Tom Foley, who is running for the Republican nomination, said “The legislature has passed the buck to the next governor and ignored the financial problems facing our state.”
However, Democratic leaders and even Rell touted the legislative session as a success.
“Despite what a lot of folks were saying that there would be no agreement on how to get rid of the 2010 deficit. No agreement on how to get rid of the 2011 deficit, that we would fail to come together here and get our work done. Let alone get our work done on time,“ said Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn.
“We were able to eliminate the deficit in both years in the toughest fiscal crisis of our lifetime,” he said. “The details and choices were tough.”
But some weren’t tough enough for Republican lawmakers who continued to suggest ways to streamline and consolidate state government. And while it doesn’t technically increase taxes over the 2010 budget, Cafero argued that the two-year budget does include tax increases.
“What we did yesterday was an adjustment to a two-year budget that raised taxes $1.2 billion.” He suggested the decision to continue a surcharge on electric bills was also a tax increase for ratepayers who had anticipated relief.
When asked how they would reconciled passing the omnibus energy bill with continuing the surcharge on electric bills, House Speaker Chris Donovan, said the state needs major energy reform and look for new ways of purchasing energy.
As far as the budget is concerned, Donovan said Democrats proposed increasing the tax on wealthy estates to lower the amount of money it needed to pay back the $1 billion in borrowing, but that Rell was not in favor of it. He said even though the surcharge is continued under the budget compromise residents will still see their electric rates reduced on average by $60 per year.
That assumes the Northeast Utilities doesn’t receive its requested January rate increase.
Rell’s administration has expressed concern about the omnibus energy bill. On Thursday she said her attorneys are reviewing the bill. She said she doesn’t know if some of the language in the bill has been taken out to alleviate the concerns.
Democrats, Republicans, and Rell all agree the failure to extend the municipal conveyance tax will be taken up at some point over the next few months.
In a flurry of last minute activity, the bill never made it onto the consent calendar in the Senate.
“There wasn’t an agreement on it until very late,” Majority Leader Martin Looney said Thursday.
A few of the accomplishments touted by lawmakers in both chambers and Rell, include the budget, the jobs bill, and a Department of Environmental Protection permitting bill.
The jobs bipartisan jobs bill Rell signaled she would approve provides up to $500,000 in loans and lines of credit for small businesses and nonprofits; creates tax credits and a cap of $200 on insurance premiums for small businesses that create new jobs or hire workers with disabilities; and gives angel investors a 25 percent credit on their income tax for up to $100,000 in investments in bioscience.
The DEP permitting bill was passed on consent in the Senate as the clock struck midnight. The bill which had the support of the business community, environmentalists, and lawmakers streamlines the DEP permitting requirements without rolling back any of Connecticut’s environmental protections. It also creates position for someone that will help a company walk through the permitting bureaucracy at a faster more efficient pace.