The state Senate finished out the regular legislative session Wednesday by passing a $46 billion budget package which eschews new tax increases and found support with Democrats and most Republicans.
The Senate sent the two-year budget to Gov. Ned Lamont’s desk on a bipartisan, 31 to 4 vote. Following months of negotiations between Lamont and legislative Democrats, the budget deal included none of the various tax proposals passed out of the legislature’s Finance Committee this year.
Many lawmakers said the budget met the moment in the aftermath of a devastating pandemic. Sen. Cathy Osten, a Sprague Democrat who is co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, called it a “historic document.”
“Clearly, this is a defining moment in history. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the vital importance of government investment in our social safety net, our health care system, and most importantly, in our residents who live in our state,” Osten said.
“This budget reflects our values. It maintains vital services and programs, makes key investments in health care, education, justice related initiatives and workforce development programs all while remaining within our statutory spending cap,” she said.
However, not everyone in her party agreed. Sen. John Fonfara, a Hartford Democrat who is co-chair of the Finance Committee, recalled the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer during a speech on the floor of the Senate. Fonfara, whose committee approved several new taxes which were rejected by the governor, called the resulting package a “status quo budget” that would lead to “status quo results.”
“When our policies fail to address in a sustained way, it’s as though our policies are a knee on the neck of the Black community and other underserved communities of our state. We can do better, we must do better,” said Fonfara, who eventually voted for the bill.
Asked about the comments by reporters outside the state Capitol building, the governor seized on Fonfara’s use of the phrase “status quo,” and pointed to the senator’s long tenure in the chamber. Fonfara first took office in 1997.
“Somebody who’s been in this building 30 years talking to somebody who’s been in this building 30 months trying to make a difference for the state. I take exception to those comments,” Lamont said. “I think this is an incredibly important, transformative budget. I think it makes a big difference in people’s lives.”
During his closing floor speech, Senate President Martin Looney agreed and said that increases in state funding to towns, known as Payments In Lieu Of Taxes, would have a significant impact on municipalities where much of the property is not taxable.
“We believe that state government should be a partner,” Looney said. “It should recognize need, it has an obligation. We are not going to let people just sink or swim and we try to address inequities where we can through our tax code, through our spending decisions.”
Several Republican senators agreed there were things worth supporting in the budget package approved Wednesday. Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, a Stratford Republican who ultimately voted for the budget, said that Republican efforts contributed to the absence of tax increases in the bill. He pointed to various efforts to raise taxes proposed by Democrats throughout this year’s legislative session.
“The Republicans pushed back on that. We believed all along that in the context of the current fiscal health of the state of Connecticut, the fact of the federal money and surplus and the rainy day fund, that no new taxes were needed, that we could put together a budget without those taxes,” Kelly said.
Republican Sens. Eric Berthel of Watertown, Dan Champagne of Vernon, Henri Martin of Bristol, and Rob Sampson of Wolcott voted against the budget bill. Democratic Sen. Dennis Bradley of Bridgeport was not present for the vote.