The House may be poised to vote on the two-year, $40.11 billion budget Tuesday, but not even a pep talk from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy would sway a handful of Democratic lawmakers from voting against the budget.
In a letter to legislative leadership and the governor, 11 Democratic lawmakers expressed concerns last week with where the budget was headed. While the lawmakers applauded the honesty and forthrightness of the governor’s proposal, they expressed concern over new levels of taxation and lack of spending cuts.
“We feel that the proposal before us does not do enough to shrink the size and cost of state government,” wrote Reps. Paul Davis of Orange, Linda Schofield of Simsbury, Chris Wright of Bristol, Steve Mikutel of Griswold, Daniel Rovero of Dayville, Ed Jutila of Niantic, Edward Moukawsher of Groton, Jonathan Steinberg of Westport, Kim Fawcett of Fairfield, and Richard Roy of Milford.
To that end, the 11 lawmakers offered suggestions as to how they would like to see the budget changed starting with reducing spending $304.3 million in the first year and $324.6 million in the second year. They also suggested eliminating $359.5 million in taxes in the first year and $340.2 million in the second year.
They further suggested the Earned Income Tax Credit program should be scrapped as the state struggles to recover from the economic downturn.
Schofield, who also voted against the spending package as a member of the Appropriations Committee, said she will again be casting her vote against the budget. She said the letter and suggestions made by lawmakers demonstrate the level of taxation can reasonably be lowered as the state realizes more money than anticipated.
The cabaret tax, which imposes a 3 percent levy on food, drink, service, and admissions on any venue offering live music, dancing, or other entertainment in addition to serving alcoholic drinks, is extremely problematic, Schofield said.
She said what happens when someone hires a band for their wedding or a restaurant hires a musician to entertain their guests? Who will collect that tax? The venue? The band? The happy couple?
She said the luxury tax is just as problematic and will have unintended consequences. She said now instead of buying a pair of earrings, people will buy one earring at a time in order to avoid the increased tax on jewelry priced at $5,000 or more.
She said she doesn’t want to minimize the efforts of those that put together the budget because it’s an honest budget and it restores funding to programs like the Manufacturing Machinery and Equipment grant programs to cities and towns.
Moukawsher said he too appreciates the decision to hold towns harmless for the loss of money they previously received from the state for the property taxes on manufacturing equipment they’re unable to collect.
However, unlike Schofield, Moukawsher said he will be voting in favor of the budget Tuesday.
“It was drafted with the reality of politics,” Moukawsher said. “It’s a tough fabric to weave,” and in the end no one got everything they wanted.
He said what he likes about the budget is that it doesn’t borrow, fully funds pensions, and lays the groundwork for the future.
However, both Moukawsher and Schofield worry what will happen if Malloy is unable to get the $2 billion in concessions from the labor unions.
As she looked around the House chamber Schofield said her colleagues in the majority were more amenable to tax increases than spending cuts. She said she understands that Malloy said he wants to cut spending and avoid raising taxes by $2 billion if he’s unsuccessful in talks with labor. However, the legislature may have different plans.
House Speaker Chris Donovan described the members of his caucus ready to vote against the budget as a “small minority.” He said he respects them, but “the rest of us, we know what we have to do and we’re going to do it.”
He said the budget gets rid of the deficit and takes care of our schools and seniors in a balanced way.
Donovan maintained that Democrats were making the hard choices and doing what is responsible in passing this budget.
“It’s not easy to do the right thing,” Donovan said. “It’s easy to put out an unbalanced budget that hurts people in the state, especially the seniors and the children.”
The number of Democrats not satisfied with the budget seems to have decreased substantially since 65 members of the caucus wrote this letter calling for a more progressive income tax structure.
Debate in the House began around 2 p.m. and after three hours no Republicans had yet offered an amendment out of the 20 they submitted. Rep. Kathy Tallarita, D-Enfield, also submitted four budget amendments dealing mostly with the sale of alcohol.