(Updated 7:45 PM) The legislature’s Democrat-controlled Appropriations Committee proposed a budget Wednesday that doesn’t touch the $3.5 billion Rainy Day Fund, but spends about $46 billion over the next two years.
Gov. Ned Lamont pitched a similar two-year, $46 billion budget in February.
Since Lamont proposed his budget the state has received a substantial $2.7 billion from the American Rescue Plan. The legislature plans to have a say on how that money is spent separately from this budget proposal.
The Democratic budget proposal does assume $1.7 billion in federal funds, which is the same as the governor’s plan. The proposal increases spending 1.8% in 2022 and 3.7% in 2023.
Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, and Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who co-chair the committee, say they kept about 80% of the governor’s budget proposal and changed about 20%.
One of the changes they made to the governor’s budget was the Education Cost Sharing formula.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle had been critical of Lamont’s budget called for freezing the funding of Education Cost Sharing grants at their current levels and using more than $440 million in one-time federal stimulus resources to pay for the education funding.
“When the governor held them harmless we determined that was not what we wanted to do,” Walker said during a virtual press conference. “We needed to go back to the commitment of strengthening the ECS formula.”
The Democratic proposal provides $14.1 million over two years to school systems that have higher numbers of low-income students and English Language Learners. It also provides an additional $108 million to cities and towns over the next two years.
The budget also provides $29 million over two years for the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system to fully implement debt-free community college.
There are bills being considered by the legislature that would use revenues from online lottery revenue to pay for debt-free college, but the Appropriations doesn’t have jurisdiction over revenues. That’s the purview of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee. The spending plan presented Wednesday assumes it would use surplus funds.
When it comes to making the budget more equitable, the spending plan includes $250,000 each year to establish the state Commission on Racial Equity in Public Health within the state Office of Legislative Management. It also makes sure inmates will be able to make free phone calls home.
It also used the $15 million in savings from closing a prison and puts the money toward an increase in staffing for inmate medical services. Over the past few years the state has been sued by at least 25 inmates for medical malpractice, which has cost the state in legal settlements.
The Democratic budget proposal also provides $50 million in direct support to nonprofit providers of health and human services. There’s also an additional $30 million for agencies who contract with these nonprofits.
Osten said when they get the additional funds from the American Rescue Plan they are recommending an additional $30 million over the next three years for these same nonprofits.
“Connecticut has increasingly relied on community-based nonprofits to provide a wide range of services since closing state-run institutions more than 30 years ago,” Gian Carl Casa, President & CEO of CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, said. “But in that time, funding for nonprofits, which contract with the state, has never kept pace with demand and increasing costs. After decades of underfunding, The Alliance estimated that nonprofits have fallen $461 million behind – a lack of funding that became even more acute when the coronavirus pandemic struck providers on the front lines of health care and closed arts venues. The Appropriations Committee understood our history and our needs.”
There’s $10 million in both years to increase Medicaid rates for home health providers. The proposal also allows nursing home residents to keep more of their assets before qualifying for Medicaid.
The 54-member Appropriations Committee voted along party lines on the proposal Wednesday evening.
Republicans opposed the plan even though they liked some of it like the increases in funding for nursing homes and the Education Cost Sharing changes.
“We need to make sure the state budget helps move our state beyond the pandemic and that federal funds are used for transformative policies,” Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, said. “But we also must not add new costs that our residents cannot afford over the long term.”
He said he supports funding for core services, such as restoring the bipartisan education funding formula, increasing the personal needs allowance for seniors in nursing homes “that Democrats cut and refused to increase for over a decade, and reversing the governor’s draconian cuts to the Medicare Savings Program. These are promises that were made that must be delivered.”