After an all-night House session to approve a two-year, $40.3 billion state budget with a nearly $2 billion tax increase, the Senate voted 19-17 in favor of the plan after an exciting parliamentary climax and more than five hours of debate.
With the Republican minority in control in the waning hours of the legislative session, the legislature’s Democratic majority had few tools at their disposal to save the state budget that passed the House 73-70 at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.
Senate Democrats were about to “call the question” to end debate and force Republicans to vote on the budget — a parliamentary measure that’s the equivalent of the nuclear option — and they narrowly avoided it.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, attempted to call the question at 11 p.m. and was interrupted by Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, who met briefly with Looney before taking the microphone to decry the process through which the budget was compiled without Republican input.
Fasano said the whole budget process has been ridiculous. He said the Democrats have the right to call the question, but he added that the Senate debate was the only time the Republican Party minority had the option to speak about this budget.
“If you’re not going to put us in a room to be heard, the only place we can be heard is on that Senate floor,” Fasano said.
He said the Democrats’ budget represents the “second largest” tax increase in Connecticut’s history and despite all the new taxes, they are projecting another deficit — $1.6 billion — in the following biennium.
“It’s absurd. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen,” Fasano said.
Debate on the budget in the Senate started at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and debate focused on the spending cap and the impact the tax package would have on businesses and the middle class.
While there was little arm twisting that needed to be done in the Senate when it came to the budget—only two Democrats Sen. Paul Doyle, D-Wethersfield, and Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, voted against the budget—House Speaker Brendan Sharkey struggled to find the votes in the House.
“I have never seen so many untransparent [sic] carrots given to lawmakers to vote for this budget,” Fasano said.
He said members of the House were marched into the governor’s office and given funding for their communities in exchange for their votes in support of the budget. There were 11 Democrats who voted against the budget and 8 lawmakers were absent, three Democrats and five Republicans.
Fasano said fatigue may have played a role in some of the last-minute decisions that have been made.
Meanwhile, lawmakers still hadn’t done the bills implementing the state budget, and called themselves back into special session that is expected to take place before June 30.