After a marathon session of arm twisting through a sleepless night, the House passed a two-year, $40.3 billion budget bill at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. Debate on the bill started around 5:30 a.m. and ended with a 73-70 vote in favor of the legislation. Eleven Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the budget, and eight members were absent.
The budget bill that the Senate is expected to take up later today increases taxes by nearly $2 billion, restores some funding that was to be cut from social services, changes how the state thinks about the property tax, and reinterprets the state’s spending cap for two years.
In order to find some of the additional revenue to fund the social service cuts proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the Democrats on the Appropriations Committee redefined how pension debt is treated, moving payments on that debt out from under the spending cap. The move frees up about $200 million.
The budget also spends about $186 million more on social services than the governor’s. It restores about $18 million to preserve access to mental health and substance abuse services and restores some funding for some low-income parents and all pregnant women on the state’s Medicaid program.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey spent all day Tuesday and most of the morning Wednesday finding the votes to get the budget passed over numerous objections from the business community.
The House had planned to vote on the budget earlier this week, but it couldn’t find the necessary votes. Lawmakers went back and lowered the amount it planned to tax computer processing centers from 3 percent to 2 percent in the first year and they added a 0.25 cent cigarette tax, but they didn’t touch the taxes the businesses found objectionable.
Sharkey said he spent five hours Wednesday morning listening to Republican lawmakers talk about a budget he did not recognize. He said the budget includes structural changes to Connecticut’s property tax system by capping the motor vehicle tax and changing how the state distributes funds to cities and towns. The budget takes a half a percent of the 6.35 sales tax gives it to municipalities to make them whole for any loss of motor vehicle tax revenue and funds a municipal revenue sharing account.
“The reality it this budget is providing significant tax relief for working families in the state of Connecticut through property tax reform and through a transportation initiative that is the key to our economic development going forward,” Sharkey said.
However, even some of Sharkey’s own members didn’t necessarily agree.
Rep. David Alexander, D-Enfield, who was one of 11 Democrats to vote against the budget, said the “wholesale” changes the budget made to the property tax system was one of the reasons he voted against it.
“This budget is paying for an experiment on the backs of middle-class taxpayers,” Alexander said.
The budget also seeks to lower the property tax credit on middle class families earning less than $100,000. The tax credit would be lowered from $300 to $200 in the second year of the budget and would reduce the income threshold at which a family loses the option to claim the credit from $100,500 to $70,500.
Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, said hardworking people have been left out of the conversation. She said she sits on the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee and didn’t feel they had enough hearings on the content.
She said she voted for a tax increase four years ago because she felt they had done the work to merit one, but she said this year the manner in which it was done was very “ad hoc.”
House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, defended the tax increase, which he said was necessary to fund programs for autistic children and individuals with developmental disabilities.
He said he will listen to the complaints of businesses like GE, but isn’t as concerned about them as he is about disabled children. He said he keeps hearing people complain about the tax package, but he also hears them complain when state offices aren’t open.
“Let’s go back to those faces in the Appropriations Committee. They don’t have the lobbyist out in the hall. They don’t have the newspapers to print their stories,” Aresimowicz said.
He said the tax package is “troublesome in many areas” but it’s better than the spending cuts.
“Is it all roses, and rainbows and everybody’s happy about it? No,” Aresimowicz said.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said the 40 percent of Connecticut voters Republicans represent were not part of the discussion. She said they continued to offer suggestions, including their own budget, but were largely ignored.
She said Connecticut is no longer the “land of opportunity,” and that “some might say this is the land of despair where we hold a sign up at the border and we say to businesses ‘get out.’ We say to citizens, ‘get out’.”
She said the biggest tax increase in the state’s history approved four years ago was supposed to solve the state’s budget woes, but it didn’t.
“We’re now back with the second biggest tax increase in the state’s history,” Klarides said. “…what we’re doing is not working.”