HARTFORD, CT — Feeding off momentum created by three Senate Democrats who surprised their leadership Friday by voting for the Republican budget, five House Democrats also crossed the aisle in support of the GOP plan early Saturday.
The House voted 77-73 in favor of the minority party’s two-year, $40.7 billion budget, which is expected to be vetoed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. According to the Office of Fiscal Analysis, both the Republican and Democratic budget proposals are projected to yield multi-billion dollar deficits in 2020, 2021, and 2022.
Democratic Reps. Pat Boyd of Pomfret, John Hampton of Simsbury, Lonnie Reed of Branford, Kim Rose of Milford, and Daniel Rovero of Killingly all voted with Republicans on the final legislation. Earlier in the debate they were joined by Democrat Cristin McCarthy Vahey of Stamford, who supported the Republican amendment to adopt the Senate version of the bill for House consideration. But McCarthy Vahey eventually switched back and voted with the Democrats against the Republican bill a little after 3 a.m.
It wasn’t an outcome that will resolve the budget stalemate that’s gone on for more than two months. It’s going to continue the debate.
“This brings us back to square one,” House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said.
Ritter told the chamber that they have a problem. He said this was the first budget to pass this year, but it will be vetoed by the governor and at some point in October the state will run out of money to pay the bills. And under Malloy’s executive order, Ritter said, it’s the ring suburbs — towns like Newington, Enfield, and Manchester — that will suffer.
“We have a quagmire,” he added.
After the budget amendment was adopted on a 78-72 vote, Democratic lawmakers started introducing other amendments regarding programs they want to see funded. They debated those amendments until about 3 a.m., passing none of them before the final vote approving the Republican plan.
On Monday, the two sides are expected to restart negotiations.
“It’s our hope we can enter true bipartisan discussions with no lines in the sand,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said before Saturday morning’s vote.
Aresimowicz said they expect to get back together as soon as Monday to continue bipartisan discussions, adding that Democrats and Republicans have more in common than they think.
Aresimowicz said they didn’t count the votes because even if the Republican budget hadn’t passed, they would have tabled the underlying Democratic budget to restart negotiations.
Democrats hold a 79 to 72 majority over Republicans in the House, but it’s a fragile majority.
Rep. John Hampton, D-Simsbury, the lone Democrat to vote against the $1.57 billion labor agreement, said he voted in favor of the Republican budget because “we’re doing harm to our state and it has to stop.”
He said the Republican budget wasn’t perfect, but it includes “structural reforms” the state needs. He said he believes the Republican proposal was a compromise.
Rep. Pat Boyd, D-Pomfret, said no matter what happens “we’re going to have a fresh chance to start from the beginning.”
Boyd joked that this situation was not covered in freshman orientation.
He said he was surprised when he got to Hartford at how quickly lawmakers label each other.
“I don’t see how we can’t look at ourselves and be champions of working families, but also get a state that is a great place to do business,” Boyd said.
He said he doesn’t know why they can’t pass a budget that protects the safety net and is fiscally responsible.
“But frankly I don’t think we can afford the state of Connecticut we’re accustomed to anymore,” Boyd said.
He eventually voted in favor of the Republican budget amendment.
Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, said the voters of Connecticut want and deserve a bipartisan budget.
She said she’s spoken with lawmakers in other states and the only way they were able to dig out of deficits was by building bipartisan budgets.
“Right now this is the blame game,” Reed said. “And this is what our constituents hate.”
What’s in it?
The Republican budget accepted the hospital tax increase that hospital executives approved as part of a deal with Democratic lawmakers and the governor. This part of the agreement fell into place because it is structured to allow for more federal reimbursements for the hospitals. The Republican plan also assumes the $1.57 billion in savings from the extension of the labor agreement.
At the beginning of the debate, Rep. Melissa Ziobron, R-East Haddam, asked her Democratic colleagues to find the courage to say that they were going to do things differently.
“This budget is a bipartisan budget,” Ziobron said.
The Republican budget would cut $309 million over two years from the University of Connecticut and its Health Center in Farmington, including $185 million from Storrs and the regional campuses and $124 million from the Health Center. Further, the Republican plan would cut $75 million in the first year and $125 million in the second year from the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities.
The 2017 state appropriation for UConn’s Storrs and regional campuses and its Health Center was $346.6 million, which was about $30 million less than the previous year’s appropriation in 2016. According to UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz, the 2017 state appropriation covers about 28 percent of the costs for the Storrs and regional campuses, and a $185 million cut — spread evenly over two years —would eliminate about a 44 percent of the UConn’s funding from the state in 2018. Reitz said the state was providing 43 percent of the revenue for the Storrs and regional campuses in 2000.
UConn President Susan Herbst released a statement this morning calling the Republican budget “appalling” and “unprecedented.” She offered a “partial list” of what the proposal would mean in terms of cuts:
• The closure of regional campuses, multiple academic departments, and potentially schools and colleges;
• The closure of the UConn Health Center, or large parts of it;
• The elimination of scores of majors and graduate programs;
• Dramatically larger classes and waitlists that will make it challenging for many students to graduate in four years;
• Major reductions to need- and merit-based financial aid for students across the board;
• Cuts to scientific and medical research programs;
• Reduction of UConn police and fire services and the elimination of most student health and mental health services, and other student support programs;
• Elimination of many Division I Athletics programs;
• Elimination of international programs, and;
• Reductions to fundraising efforts and philanthropic giving.
“We have to start living within our means,” Ziobron said, defending the spending cuts to higher education.
Rep. Gregory Haddad, D-Mansfield, said the cuts to higher education are “a recipe for disaster” that will increase course loads for teachers and diminish opportunities for middle class families to get an education in Connecticut.
“It certainly does not move Connecticut in the right direction,” Haddad said.
The Republican budget is largely balanced on changes they hope to make to state employee contracts in 2027 when the current contract expires.
The Republican budget says the cost-of-living increases for retired state employees won’t be funded until the state employee pension fund is funded at 80 percent. Further, no overtime pay would be included in calculations for pension payouts for current state employees, and they would ask that employee contributions to the pensions go up to 7 percent.
Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, has said that that change would generate savings in 2018 and 2019 because it means the state would not have to contribute as much in those years to the pensions.
Rep. Michael D’Agostino, D-Hamden, questioned the one-page actuarial report used to put together Republican projections for how the changes in 2027 will help save $144 million in the first year and $177 million in the second year.
D’Agostino said he believes the language included in the budget will land them in court because they can’t make the necessary changes outside of collective bargaining.
AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier said the Republican budget proposal attempts to “take away our freedom to negotiate our health care and our retirement security.”
She said Connecticut state employees gave back more than $1 billion to help shore up the state’s finances, and “Republicans not only demanded more blood, they refused to ask for anything from corporate CEOs and the ultra-wealthy.”
It was clear, maybe for the first time for some, that the partisan dynamics in the House chamber had changed.
Democrats were questioning Republicans about their budget proposal and Democrats appeared to be taking pleasure in scrutinizing the Republican budget proposal with sometimes tough questions.
Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, pointed out that the Republican budget would land the state back in deficit in three years, according to the Office of Fiscal Analysis.
OFA said the GOP plan would create deficits of $1.24 billion, $2.14 billion, and $2.81 billion in 2020, 2021, and 2022.
“I’m not so sure the structural changes are going to have the effect they want them to have,” Rojas said.
According to the fiscal note released by the OFA, the Democratic budget proposal also would have created deficits in 2020, 2021, and 2022 — $1.44 billion, $2.16 billion, and $2.7 billion respectively.
Democrats were also quick to point out that the Republican budget also includes less help for homeowners facing crumbling foundations in eastern Connecticut.
There was $2.7 million a year set aside in the Republican budget for crumbling foundations, and they would create an Office of the Executive Administrator of the Crumbling Foundation. The governor’s office would need to hire three additional staff for that work at a cost of $220,000 in the first year and $360,472 the second year.
Rep. Chris Davis, R-East Windsor, said the homeowners have asked for one person in state government to be responsible for this.
The Democratic budget, however, included a $12 annual surcharge on certain homeowner insurance policies to help cover the cost of crumbling foundations. The surcharge was expected to raise about $10 million per year for five years. The money was to be placed into a “Healthy Homes Fund,” and was to go to a captive insurance company that would serve as an oversight entity.
Among other issues raised by the Democrats early Saturday, the Republican budget would also eliminate the Citizens Election Program (CEP) while increasing the amount of money corporations could contribute to election campaigns. The CEP, which was passed with Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s approval following her predecessor Gov. John G. Rowland’s corruption conviction, has been credited with creating a more even playing field for candidates to run for public office.
The Republican budget also didn’t include any additional money for Hartford. Mayor Luke Bronin recently said the city would have to file a petition for bankruptcy if a state budget wasn’t passed in the next 60 days, which means by early November.
Malloy has been running state since July 1 by executive order with his limited spending authority.
On Oct. 1, if he’s forced to continue running the budget by executive order 85 school districts won’t receive their Education Cost Sharing funds and 54 others would see reduced funding.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to include more information on the cuts proposed to the University of Connecticut and its Health Center in Farmington.