HARTFORD, CT — Connecticut’s budget is still $381.8 million in the red this year, but revenue figures came in higher than expected, boosting the Rainy Day Fund to $1.5 billion, or 8 percent of general fund expenditures.
That’s enough to cover the budget deficit for this year if the legislature fails to take any action to mitigate it. It also leaves a budget surplus of about $263 million in 2019 if the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services increase the reimbursements for the hospitals.
Most of the reason for the increased deficit in 2018 is the federal grant account. Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said he doesn’t expect the supplemental hospital payments from the federal government to be made until 2019.
Despite agreement last fall on the two-year budget, Democratic and Republican legislative leaders have yet to convene a budget meeting to determine where to go this legislative session.
The Democratic majority in the House was able to get a spending plan passed through the Appropriations Committee on a party line vote 10 days ago, but since then the two parties have not met to discuss how to move forward.
With only 10 days left in the legislative session it’s unclear if they will be able to erase the 2018 deficit or adjust the 2019 budget even though there are several areas of agreement.
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed a deficit mitigation plan back in December 2017.
Legislative leaders have delayed budget negotiations for months as they speed to the end of the legislative session and toward their 2018 re-election campaigns.
The Democratic Party, which holds a slim majority in the House, seems to be focused on legislation they can run on in November, rather than on legislation that might actually pass — according to House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby.
“They have been a huge part of the fiscal mess in Connecticut. They cannot possibly run on anything budgetary,” Klarides said. “So they’re trying to divert people’s attention in the state of Connecticut to anything else that they can.”
Klarides said that’s why the Democrats haven’t given Republicans the revenue proposal to balance their spending plan.
“Literally there’s no revenue in their budget,” Klarides said.
She said they only presented the spending side and have yet to provide how they will get the money.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said he plans to meet with Klarides on Monday to discuss the plan for the week.
He said his door remains open for budget negotiations, even though none had happened as of 5 p.m. Monday.
Aresimowicz said it’s not certain there’s enough revenue to put back all the spending Democrats and Republicans have agreed, in theory, to restore.
“It may not be enough,” Aresimowicz said Monday. “I’ve never taken revenue off the table if it’s something we believe in.”
Klarides said there’s certainly things the two parties agree on, but increasing revenue to achieve those goals is not one of them.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the revenue numbers welcome news.
“The reforms adopted as part of the bipartisan budget will lead to more than $1.5 billion being deposited into the state’s Rainy Day Fund and a stronger, more stable economic outlook,” Looney said. “Now that we have the consensus revenue report, I look forward to working with my Democratic and Republican colleagues on making adjustments to the bipartisan budget in order to better fund public education, protect aid to cities and towns, and end the year with a balanced budget.”
Malloy said the numbers are “unquestionably good news — it is a milestone we should all recognize and appreciate.”
“In January 2011, Connecticut faced a biennial deficit of more than $6 billion, a depleted Rainy Day Fund, and had taken on a $916 million deficit loan, which has since been fully repaid,” Malloy, who is not seeking re-election, said. “In the intervening years, we’ve worked hard and made difficult decisions to set the state on more stable financial footing, including fully funding our pensions each and every year. Now, we must continue our progress. In the interests of all state residents, I urge the legislature to remain disciplined in order to give the next governor and the next legislature the best chances of success in the years ahead.”
Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said the goal is to get most of the House bills up to the Senate by Wednesday so that they have a chance of passing the evenly divided upper chamber.
The fate of several pieces of legislation will depend on bipartisan support in the Senate, which won’t meet until Tuesday.
Klarides said the Democrats in the House want to do “all this other stuff,” which isn’t balancing the state budget.
Aresimowicz said he’s determined to have a vote on installing electronic tolls on Connecticut highways.
He said he wants to get the latest draft of the bill out there for members to see.
A document passed around by the Democratic caucus says drivers who purchase a CT-issued E-ZPass will receive a 30 percent discount, plus an extra 20 percent if they are regular commuters or frequent users.
“Vehicles without an E-ZPass are charged an extra 25 to 50 percent depending on whether they register their license plate with the CT toll system. All drivers are charged 25 percent more in the peak traffic period,” according to a document passed around the Democratic caucus last week.
Aresimowicz estimated the proposal would still bring in $1.3 billion a year in toll revenue. Even if the federal government allowed Connecticut to offer its residents all the discounts it wants to offer.
The document says a trip from Hartford to New Haven, which is 38 miles, would cost $1.33 off-peak and $1.67 during peak hours.
Klarides said they don’t want to put tolls in because they “look pretty.” She said the whole thing is a “revenue grab” and they continue to come up with ways to make it seem like to won’t be as bad as it will actually be.
“It’s going to cost you money to go buy bread,” Klarides said.
She said it’s yet another showing of the incompetence of the administration and the legislature’s Democratic majority.