HARTFORD, CT — House Democrats went behind closed doors Thursday and came out with a two-year budget proposal that increases the sales tax to 6.99 percent and gives municipalities the option raising it an additional 1 percent on food and beverages.
The proposal, which is currently in a spreadsheet and being called a draft, would increase spending in the first year nearly $185 million over this year’s spending.
The other caucuses, including the Senate Democrats who were given the House Democratic proposal for the first time Thursday afternoon, were not complimentary of the document.
The lack of a vote means Connecticut will start fiscal year 2018 without a budget in place.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said his caucus plans to vote on the proposal July 18, which is the day after the vote on the union concession package concludes. He added that House Democrats wanted to enact a full budget, rather than debating a “mini-budget” that would help the governor run the state for 90-days until they can reach an agreement on a two-year budget.
The decision to come out with the draft proposal Thursday opened up the House Democratic caucus to even more criticism than it was under before today.
“The reason they’re not meeting is because they don’t have the votes to pass a budget,” Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday.
He said he’s still trying to wrap his head around the decision not to gavel in to discuss the situation.
“They didn’t vote. They’re not here,” Malloy said. “You can’t compromise with people who aren’t here.”
Malloy said he would like to see a list of all the lawmakers who showed up Thursday at the state Capitol for the closed-door caucus.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said he also was “disappointed and concerned” that they were unable to enact a three-month budget Thursday.
Looney said he hasn’t decided on whether he would sign the necessary paperwork for a vote to move forward on July 18.
Both the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House have to sign off on any emergency certified legislation, which includes everything in a special session.
To show how far apart the factions within the Democratic Party may be, Looney held a joint press conference with Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, to share his thoughts.
Fasano said his caucus didn’t support Malloy’s 90-day budget proposal, but he said despite that there would have been Republican votes for it because doing nothing will enact needless harm on certain populations.
Fasano said the decision by the House Democratic caucus to release a two-year budget Thursday was “a knee jerk reaction” to significant public criticism.
“There were some editorials,” Fasano said. “There was some panic in that chamber.”
But Aresimowicz said his caucus wasn’t really interested in a temporary solution to the state’s budget woes.
That response wasn’t good enough for Malloy, who said he would be happy to see a list of members who showed up today for the House Democratic caucus.
“Today the House of Representatives failed,” Malloy said.
He said the short term budget was not a perfect solution, but it’s something.
Malloy said the Democratic budget proposal “leads with revenue, underfunds debt service, guts transportation.”
He said what House Democrats presented Thursday had “more holes than Swiss cheese.”
“Let’s see if they can pass it,” Malloy added.
With less than two days before the start of a new fiscal year and no budget proposal or even a temporary solution on the horizon, residents from all over Connecticut gathered at the state Capitol to lobby lawmakers to continue state funding.
Two days before the new fiscal year and lawmakers have been unable approve a budget, which means Malloy will have to run the state through an executive order that will mean severe spending reductions for every state agency and program.
A handful of folks who receive services from Gilead Community Services in Middletown made their way to Hartford Thursday to remind lawmakers that without those services they would be out on the street and likely still addicted to drugs.
Laurie Phillips said the Gilead Clubhouse helps keep her clean and sober. She said they also offer a reasonably priced hearty lunch, which is sometimes the only meal those in her social circle will get for the day.
“If the facility is closed we’re on the street,” Phillips said.
Mary Berl said Gilead helps her stay focused on her recovery.
Without a budget or a mini-budget in place, Gilead and other social service providers who receive funding from the departments of Mental Health and Addiction Services, Developmental Services, or the Department of Children and Families will see their budgets cut anywhere between 9 to 23 percent.
Dan Osborne, CEO of Gilead, said they will be looking at closing a program or reducing case management services. But it’s too soon to say what will happen because it’s still unclear what parts of his budget would be cut since it’s unclear how the state agencies would distribute the funding reductions.
“At this point it’s still a guessing game,” Osborne said.
Gian-Carl Casa, president and CEO of the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, said July 1 is a real deadline for his member organizations, like Gilead.
“We appreciate the effort of all the legislative caucuses, but without a resolution the people who suffer will be those struggling with mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, re-entry from prison, developmental disabilities, and other issues. Every day of the new fiscal year without a budget will be disastrous for them. We get that lawmakers are grappling with very tough fiscal problems, but so are community providers across the state who will be forced to close programs and lay-off staff in the coming days.”
He said there’s still time to avoid disaster.