Fourteen Democratic representatives met for more than three hours behind closed doors Thursday to talk about what changes they would like to see made to the state budget.
Although only 11 Democratic lawmakers voted against the budget on June 3, there were several others who expressed concerns. A handful of the moderate caucus voted for the budget in the end, but the special session gives the group some time to advocate for changes.
Several lawmakers who exited the room Thursday declined to comment, but Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, who has taken on a leadership role in the caucus, said the meeting was productive.
“We put a lot of things on the table,” Steinberg said. “. . . We want to be as helpful as we can before the paint dries on the special session.”
Steinberg said he would contact House Speaker Brendan Sharkey to see if they could meet to discuss some of the changes the moderates would like to see in an implementer bill. He declined to offer any specifics about what changes the group wants to see.
“The mods have existed for years. We were meeting before this entire session process,” Steinberg said. “We share the basic Democratic values of the caucus, but we believe in fiscal moderation.”
He said they’re working to make the budget better and help leadership make some changes to help win their support.
The budget was approved 73-70, so there is little margin for error. Sharkey will need every vote he can get from his caucus and members of the moderate caucus could give him the cushion he needs to pass language implementing the two-year budget.
Sharkey struggled to sell the original deal he struck with the administration to his members. According to sources, many were called into his office and encouraged to vote for the budget. In the end, Sharkey was unable to convince at least 11 Democrats to vote for the package.
Sharkey kept lawmakers at the Capitol for almost 24-hours before bringing out the budget at 5:30 a.m. on the final day of the legislative session. A handful of Republican lawmakers who were absent — because of illness or personal responsibilities — missed the vote, giving the Democratic majority a slim margin of victory on a budget everyone wants to change.
The House Democrats are expected to meet next Tuesday to discuss the budget language and an upcoming special session.
Last week, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed changing the finance package to roll back some of the taxes that would impact Connecticut businesses. In exchange for rolling back about $223.5 million, the governor or lawmakers would need to cut spending by an equal amount.
Meanwhile, a group of advocates who don’t want to see the state budget cut any further are calling upon lawmakers and Malloy to increase the income tax on Connecticut’s wealthiest citizens even more.
A coalition of labor unions and social service organizations calling themselves “Better Choices” said instead of cutting spending further they should increase the income tax from 6.99 to 7.49 percent on individuals earning more than $500,000 and couples earning more than $1 million.
Roger Senserrich, of the Connecticut Association of Human Services, said Malloy can have the changes to the tax package, but they don’t want him to cut spending any more than it’s been cut.
He said their focus is on saving the services that benefit Connecticut’s neediest citizens.
Asked why he didn’t propose repurposing the half a percent of the sales tax that is expected to help fund transportation improvement, Senserrich said that’s not their focus.
“We have a state where the top 10 percent pay half the taxes that middle class families pay,” Senserrich said. “We should ask those who can afford it.”
Bonnie Stewart, vice president of government affairs for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said lawmakers have to be careful when they talk about raising the personal income tax because that’s how the bulk of the small businesses pay their taxes. She said small businesses are limited liability companies or limited liability partnerships who pay their taxes through the personal income tax.
“When you’re talking about increasing the top tax rates that is a concern for us because it means you’re taxing the small businesses more heavily and they have less money to invest in their people, their facilities, etc.,” Stewart said.
She said Connecticut residents pay their state income tax at the “bottom of page 1” before the deductions. Other states like New York pay their income tax at the “bottom of page 2 so you can’t just look at our rate alone and say we’re comparing apples to apples.”
But the Better Choices Coalition feels differently.
“The wealthy can afford to pay a little bit more,” Senserrich said.
Editor’s note: The original article mistakenly reported Better Choices was looking to increase the income tax to 7.04 percent. It’s 7.49 percent.