HARTFORD, CT — Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano thought he had found a fatal flaw in the Democratic budget that would have forced the chamber to delay debate until approval of a labor agreement, but the chief negotiator for the unions says that he’s wrong.
Democrats in the Senate pushed forward with eight hours of debate and a vote despite Fasano’s complaint.
“While we have made clear that we are not open to a penny of further concessions beyond the $24 billion in savings we are already providing through the SEBAC 2017 agreement, we have indicated our willingness to consider ‘win-win’ changes, including the pension funding proposal included in the budget,” Dan Livingston, chief negotiator for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, said. “We don’t consider it unreasonable for the budget to assume the parties will agree to this change.”
Fasano was quick to point out those changes have not technically been agreed to yet and that’s his point.
“Clearly, it makes it sound an awful lot like there is not a deal,” Fasano said. “If there’s not a deal there cannot be a savings and if there’s not a savings then this budget is out of balance.”
There are $163 million in the first year and $200 million in savings in the second year of the budget related to refinancing pensions for state employees. The money is currently an unallocated lapse in the budget.
“We have not approved the resolution that changes the contract between the state and the union,” Fasano said.
Fasano said he doesn’t believe the measure was properly before the Senate before the debate on the budget began.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the issue is a constitutional question that can’t be resolved through a “point of order,” under Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure, which governs procedural matters.
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, who serves as presiding officer in the Senate, said it’s not the duty of a presiding officer to rule on the constitutionality of legislation, either.
Fasano declined to appeal the ruling and debate on the two-year $43.35 billion budget began.
The budget passed 20-16 with Sen. Joan Hartley of Waterbury and Sen. Alex Bergstein of Greenwich joining Republicans in voting against it.
The budget doesn’t increase the income tax, but it does increase sales taxes on a number of everyday actions and purchases ranging from digital downloads to parking and plastic bags.
The budget also does not include any increase for the nonprofit community that serves 500,000 people through some 1,200 contracts with the state.
Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said workers for those organizations got a cost-of-living increase last year. She said this year, legislators increased Medicaid spending for nursing homes to avoid a strike.
There were a number of questions about specific parts of the budget that seemed to be beneficial to certain communities.
For instance, if the tribes are able to build a casino in East Windsor, West Hartford and Windsor will receive $750,000 from the state. The two towns were added to a list that already includes Bridgeport, East Hartford, Ellington, Enfield, Hartford, New Haven, Norwalk, South Windsor, Waterbury, and Windsor Locks.
Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, introduced an amendment that would give the money earmarked for those two new towns to the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, which has failed to win federal recognition.
“How an we designate money to two towns that have no connection? Yet we are leaving a tribe that has great connection with zero funding,” Somers said.
Osten said she appreciated the amendment, but she would like Somers instead to sign onto the community bond for the water and septic system for the tribe that’s in a request to Lamont.
Osten called the two-year budget “the most fiscally responsible budget in Connecticut history.”
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, also applauded the budget deal. He said feels like he must be reading a different document than Fasano.
“Despite a great deal of hand-wringing on behalf of the minority party in both chambers this really is a strong and forward thinking budget,” Looney said.
He touted the tout debt-free community college proposal, which was included in the budget, but not funded.
The debt-free community college proposal won’t go into effect until the second year of the budget and requires students to accept all available financial aid. Nearly 60 percent of community-college students already have their tuition, fees and book costs covered by federal funding, or they receive financial aid covering their tuition and fees.
The budget initiative seeks to close the gap within available appropriations or through online lottery games, depending on the results of a feasibility study due on those in January.
Republican lawmakers wondered why the state was giving a single company an opportunity to use their tax credits.
The budget gives Cigna an extension to earn some of the $18 million in tax credits that were set to expire at the end of the year. Cigna was promised $21 million in grants and forgivable loans, in addition to $50 in urban reinvestment tax credits in 2011 by former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration under the First Five program.
Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, said the company has met or exceeded its hiring expectations under the grant and has met its responsibilities regarding capital investment. The budget extends the company’s ability to use the credits until 2024.
Senate Deputy Minority Leader Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, said, “This budget is not an arterial bleed, it’s a venous bleed.”
“It’s slow,” Witkos said. “We’re bleeding the people of Connecticut dry.”
Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, said while last year’s budget work might have been bipartisan, this year’s efforts were far from it.
Sen. Dan Champagne, R-Vernon, questioned $3 million in youth violence prevention grants, which are controlled by the Black and Puerto Rican caucus and administered by the Judicial Branch.
He also questioned the $450,000 for the Women’s Business Development Council in Stamford.
Fran Pastore, the CEO of the group, was a member of Lamont’s transition team.
Osten said described it as a “standard grant that’s approved year after year.”
She said it is a statewide organization that promotes women-owned businesses.
“I wish we could find better ways to cut money,” Champagne said. “We need to look at all the grants we sent out there to make sure they’re doing what we want them to do.”