The Senate passed a budget bill 20-16 Tuesday that implements the two-year, $40.11 billion budget bill signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy last month. The 277 page document with 175 sections does a number of things, but perhaps the most controversial was the acceptance of the $1.6 billion union concession package before its ratification.
Republican senators, like their colleagues in the House, said they were disappointed the bill takes away their ability to vote on what is perhaps one of the largest union contracts in recent memory. But Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said by voting on this implementer bill they’re already voting on the agreement.
“Of course we’re voting on the incorporation of the concession agreement between the governor and the union leaders — that’s what we’re doing today,” Williams said in his closing remarks.
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said the legislature should return for a special session to approve an agreement, if it’s ratified. He said the bill the Senate voted on Tuesday allows the agreement to go into effect by June 30 if it’s ratified by the unions because the Democrats don’t want to return to vote on it.
“It’s we don’t want to vote on this,” McKinney said.
Earlier in the day a poster popped up outside the Republican caucus room with a May 2 quote from Williams talking about the budget, which at the time was adopted by the General Assembly without a tentative agreement between Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and union leadership.
“That’s why there’s specific language in the Democratic budget that’s before us today that requires that when there is an agreement, it comes back to the legislature for ratification,“ Williams said.
Republicans say the budget implementation language breaks that promise.
“It’s about saying one thing and doing another,” McKinney said.
“We reserve the right to come back, if they ratify the agreement,” Williams said Tuesday. “But why would we do that? Why would we waste taxpayer money on a special session?”
McKinney said he can understand why they wouldn’t want to vote on the union agreement and it’s because the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis couldn’t verify the savings it purports to achieve.
While Democratic and Republican lawmakers praised the ability of OFA in providing fiscal reports to the General Assembly, Democrats contended that they don’t have enough information to draw the same conclusions the administration and union leadership have been able to draw.
Sen. Eileen Daily, co-chairwoman of the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee, said she understands Republicans efforts to have them vote on a contract, but even when they do vote they’re only voting on the “fiscal sufficiency” of that contract. She said it’s common practice for the legislature to allow union contracts to go into effect without legislative action.
Republicans argued it’s common practice, but not for an agreement as large and important as this one.
The budget assumes about $700.7 million in savings in the first year of the contract and about $901.2 million in the second year of the contract, but the Office of Fiscal Analysis was only about to verify about 40 percent of it based on information it received from the governor’s budget office.
Sen. Toni Harp, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said OFA is often constrained by the information they have.
Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, said according to the OFA note, “no one knows nothing.” He said in his 17 years in the legislature he has never been asked to vote on something without any information.
Malloy himself said earlier Tuesday morning that it doesn’t matter what OFA says he’s going to have to find those savings in the budget no matter what happens.
“I think that’s consistent with a governor who has very little use for, and regard for the legislative branch,” McKinney said outside the Senate chamber. “I think at times, at best we’re a nuisance to the governor.”
Republicans were also upset Malloy decided to close the $400 million budget gap created when the union concession package was lowered from $2 billion to $1.6 billion, mostly with surplus funds. About $319 million of the $400 million comes from the built in $1 billion surplus.
Harp warned Republicans not to call it a surplus because there is no such thing as a surplus. “It’s excess revenue,” Harp said.
By using that excess revenue to fill the gap, Malloy’s budget comes about $1 million from the constitutional spending cap.
Williams said over the past decade about 8 of the 13 budgets overspent the cap.
“This year we’re under the spending cap and that is an amazing achievement,” Williams said.
Republicans introduced five amendments to the bill, which changes numerous other parts of the budget.
In addition to the union concession agreement, the bill eliminates the $646.6 million in Economic Recovery Revenue Bonds the state needed to borrow in order to balance this year’s budget. The increased revenue projections helped the state eliminate the average $2.65 surcharge on Connecticut Light & Power customers, which the state planned to use to pay back the bonds.
However, the state will be keeping the $40 million it already raised from implementing the surcharge in January despite a Republican amendment seeking to rebate the money to consumers.
It also repeals a three percent cabaret tax, caps the tax on cigars at 50 cents apiece, and postponed the planned fare increase for MetroNorth’s New Haven rail line. It also eliminates the staffing at the West Willington rest area on Interstate 84.