Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, outside her Capitol office Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

The legislature’s Appropriations Committee endorsed a midterm state spending plan Thursday, funding both tax breaks and a long list of progressive programs despite Republican concerns it relied too-heavily on one-time revenue.  

The bill, adopted on a midday and largely partisan vote, serves as the second half of the legislature’s response to the budget Gov. Ned Lamont proposed in February. The legislature’s finance panel advanced its own tax plan during a meeting Wednesday.

The package adopted Thursday by the Appropriations Committee differs from the bills endorsed by the governor and the finance panel and all three proposals will likely be squared in closed-door negotiations between the Lamont administration and legislative Democrats before the session ends next month. 

“This is a good budget that uses public policy to address all of the issues that have affected Connecticut residents over the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said in a press release ahead of the meeting. “We dealt with a variety of issues in this budget that are real in Connecticut and that are going to make people’s lives better.”

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The legislative spending plan shares common ground with both earlier proposals. At around $22 billion it is about $14 million cheaper than Lamont’s proposal, according to legislative Democrats. It uses about $827 million in federal funds. 

The bill scales back a proposal by Lamont to reduce local property taxes, especially on vehicles. Where the governor’s bill would have capped the mill rate on vehicles at 29, the committee endorsed a plan to enact a 32.46 cap which would require about $60 million less in state reimbursements to towns. The change puts the spending committee at odds with the finance panel, which on Wednesday approved a separate bill to expand on Lamont’s proposal. 

In other areas, the bill dedicates more state funds to boost the wages of child care workers, more money to expand daycare services, and more funds for nonprofit service providers facing staffing shortages. The state would also dedicate additional funding to domestic violence prevention programs and smoking cessation efforts among other things. 

The tax package and the spending plan do not match up, according to Osten. 

“Finance had some different things they wanted to try out this year. Their ideas were not shared with Appropriations,” she added. 

House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora likened the budget process this year to fingerpainting. 

“It’s a bunch of kids putting painting marks on paper with paint, instead of a pen or pencil,” he said. 

Although the committee’s vote fell largely along party lines, Republicans on the panel praised much of the budget’s priorities, just not how Democrats chose to fund them. Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, criticized the budget’s reliance on one-time federal funds over recurring general funds. 

“In the years to come, it’s going to be difficult for this committee to continue to fund all the good things that are in this budget,” Miner said, “and in some cases all the important things that are in this budget.”

Rep. Mike France, R- Ledyard, agreed, saying the budget creates commitments to programs and organizations and funds them through one-time funds.

“The expectation by those organizations is going to be that there will be a continuation of that funding,” France said. “It sets an expectation in some cases as well where we are creating a cliff and frankly it allows a way to circumvent the spending cap.”

Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden, said she understood the concerns the Republicans had voiced but said the committee had crafted a spending plan that would offer real support to Connecticut residents.

“I will just say to all of my colleagues, this is a really good budget,” Abercrombie said. “This is the first time in 10 years that we have really been able to help the residents of this state, whether it’s through education or — you all know I make no excuses for it where my heart lies — in the human services, and we should all be proud of this.”

The committee budget also cast aside a proposal by the governor to shift funding and staff to the state auditors office rather than fund the State Contracting Standards Board. Instead, lawmakers voted to restore $450,000 to the board in order to hire staff. 

“We don’t think that auditors do the job that the Contracting Standards Board does,” Osten told reporters after Thursday’s meeting. “We believed that it needed protections against any Executive Branch government because, as you well know, this has been something that has not been fully funded by any governor since its inception. This year it’s finally funded in its entirety.”

Last month, the board’s chair, Lawrence Fox, called the governor’s plan “Orwellian” and told the Appropriations Committee the change would effectively end the contracting watchdog office. 

The appropriations budget was immediately lauded by a coalition of nonprofit providers whose services are funded by the state. As lawmakers were casting their votes, Gian Carl Casa, president of the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, released a statement praising the panel’s funding priorities. 

“In the face of enormous pressure to fund other line items while not exceeding the spending cap, the Committee leadership heard the concerns of nonprofits and prioritized their needs,” Casa said. “The proposed budget stands with community providers and the people who depend on their vital services.”  

The state chapters of the AARP and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network released similar endorsements. 

“Today’s proposed budget marks a huge step in the right direction and sets us on the path to not only saving hundreds of thousands in tobacco related healthcare costs, but more importantly, saving lives,” said Bryte Johnson, state director of government relations for the cancer society network.