HARTFORD, CT — Democrats are proposing a budget that increases spending $216.7 million over the amount adopted as part of the bipartisan budget, while Republicans are seeking to reduce it by $27.3 million.
The two parties released their budget proposals at press conferences before they duked it out in an Appropriations Committee meeting where they used a parliamentary maneuver to split the committee so that the House and the Senate members would vote separately.
The House adopted the Democratic budget proposal by a vote of 21-19. The Senate did not vote on the House bill because the committee was split so it was already headed to the House floor. The Republican budget amendment died 27-25 along partylines when it was raised as part of a Senate bill.
Earlier in the day, the Republican Party released all of its budget documents and summary sheets to show how they balanced the budget, while the Democratic legislators handed out a 173-page document that detailed the spending in each agency.
Legislators from both parties then retreated to caucus rooms to review each others proposals and promised to reconvene at some point Friday.
During a seven-minute press conference with Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, and Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who co-chair the Appropriations Committee, they talked about the funding that was restored for various programs.
Walker said that the budget was focused on fixing the Medicare Savings Plan, which helps pay Part B premiums for the elderly and disabled, municipal aid and other social service spending.
However, neither the Democratic or Republican budget fully restores funding for the Medicare Savings Program.
An estimated 69,500 elderly and disabled would lose the benefit under the Democratic budget proposal and 38,000 would lose benefits under the Republican budget. There are currently 115,200 individuals receiving benefits under the program.
Sheldon Toubman, an attorney for New Haven Legal Assistance, said he’s disappointed in the decision.
“Very disappointed that they did not fully restore MSP and particularly that they did not restore the HUSKY A cut at all — meaning that over 13,000 hard working, low income parents are going to lose their HUSKY A coverage in just a few months; they will have nowhere else to turn for health care coverage,” Toubman said. “This is hard to understand, given the many low income people who will be cut off of health insurance in basically every town and city in the state. Hopefully, this will all be fixed in the final budget.”
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget didn’t include any funding for the Medicare Savings Program or HUSKY A parents.
The Democratic budget, according to a press release, restores almost $115 million in state aid to cities and towns, and includes $5 million for a “Free 2 Start” initiative that provides tuition relief to in-state students at Connecticut’s colleges and universities.
Republicans helped defeat the “Free 2 Start” initiative as a stand alone bill in the Appropriations Committee earlier this week.
“The free tuition is a good idea. We just can’t afford it,” Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said.
Fasano said the Democratic Party has a problem with making promises for new programs then having to get rid of them because the state is back in deficit.
“You can’t do that. It’s not sustainable,” Fasano said. “Their budget will ensure an ever increasing tax consequence to the state of Connecticut for years to come.”
He said the Democratic budget “is an election year political ploy.”
At the same time, Republicans do seek to use some of the additional income tax receipts the state may realize to pay down pension debt in both the State Employees Retirement System and Teachers Retirement System. They also would put additional money in the Rainy Day Fund.
Republicans said it would result in $200 million in savings over the next five years.
The Democrats also dip into the additional income tax receipts to increase spending.
Malloy panned the Republican proposal. He said the money should be put in the Rainy Day Fund where it will be needed at some point in the future.
“It’s like dealing with teenagers,” Malloy said.
He said one-time revenue should not be used to pay down the unfunded pension liability.
“This is one-time money in a state with a poorly funded Rainy Day Fund,” Malloy said.
Malloy said everyone is rushing around for a talking point when “we should be talking about how to protect the Rainy Day Fund.”
He said the idea that a governor would come into office and not be able to bond money for transportation—“we’ve got issues.”
The same day the lawmakers debated the 2019 budget, the governor’s budget office issued a money report saying the 2018 deficit had doubled to $363.5 million, an increase of $170.8 million.
“Statutory provisions require the state to process certain hospital rate and supplemental payments in advance of full federal approval. The state’s submissions are currently undergoing federal review, but it is unlikely that federal approvals will be obtained before the fiscal year ends,” Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes wrote Friday in his monthly letter to state Comptroller Kevin Lembo.
The inability to the state to receive the reimbursement caused the deficit to increase by about $150 million.
None of the proposals Friday addressed the 2018 deficit. Malloy released a deficit mitigation plan in December 2017. Legislators have yet to respond to it.
Bhumika Choudhary and Parker Fiske contributed to this report.