The legislature will have a difficult time approving a state budget before the end of its session in two weeks if lawmakers and Gov. Ned Lamont do not reach an agreement in the next 48 hours, House Speaker Matt Ritter told reporters Wednesday.
During a morning press briefing, Ritter said the legislative schedule was looking increasingly crowded in the time remaining before the conclusion of the session at midnight on May 5.
House leaders expect a debate over raises for state employees to take several hours on Thursday and lawmakers will need to dedicate time early next week to approving new judges, he said. But the legislature’s most important task in a short session is making adjustments to the two-year state budget and as of Wednesday lawmakers and the administration had yet to agree on spending priorities, Ritter said.
“I talked to the governor today and I said our timing’s way off right now,” Ritter said. “This happened last year. We are so far behind, in my opinion. We gotta get this done by tomorrow.”
Ritter, who made a similar appeal near the end of last year’s session, said the two sides were close to agreement and dismissed sticking points as “academic exercises.” Policymakers were more or less in agreement on the tax side of the budget corrections. The House speaker said the budget would include around $100 million in car tax relief as well as an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor.
At issue still was the spending plan, which Ritter said was time-consuming for legislative staff to draft. The legislature’s finance committee has endorsed a plan that would eventually fund a new child tax credit and expand child care programs, but does so by forgoing a fiscal safeguard called the revenue cap, which prevents the state from spending more than 99% of its expected revenue.
Lamont and legislative Republicans have objected to skirting the cap, which was adopted as part of a bipartisan budget in 2017. Last week, the governor told a gathering of business leaders he would oppose efforts to deviate from Connecticut’s fiscal guard rails.
“For me, that means no hanky panky when it comes to the spending cap, no fooling around with the revenue cap, no playing games with the rainy day — these are all ways we’ve provided real fiscal stability,” Lamont said.
On Wednesday, Ritter said the child tax credit remained an important priority for House Democrats. He suggested it may be “overkill” to maintain both a revenue cap and a volatility cap, another restriction on state spending. However, the implementation of the child programs must already be delayed until 2024 as a result of federal rules governing the spending of pandemic relief funds.
“The question gets asked at some point, ‘Well why do it this year if you don’t have to?’ But the counter to that is it’s a marker, it’s important and it’s saying that we’re funding priorities,” Ritter said. “There’s some importance in putting some markers down for the next biennium and it sounds like pre-k, child care costs, child tax credit are things that have a lot of support.”
Ritter said he was optimistic there may be some Republican support for the budget eventually agreed upon by legislative Democrats and the governor’s administration. The plan will make adjustments to the budget passed last year on a bipartisan basis.
On Tuesday, House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said Republicans had not shut the door on supporting the budget. However, he said some elements of the proposals advanced by legislative Democrats may make that difficult.
“There are certain lines that our caucus will draw in the sand,” Candelora said. “One of those is the revenue cap, one of those is the type of tax relief we’re going to afford and when it’s going to come.”
Ritter said he hoped negotiations would allow the legislature to approve a budget soon because looming political campaigns and the statewide nominating conventions of both parties will make scheduling a special session to approve a budget difficult.
“The clock is not on our side and the parade of horribles of what a special session could bring — I don’t even want to imagine what that could look like,” Ritter said.
Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly reminded his colleagues that they already have budget.
“We have a budget. It’s bipartisan and balanced,” Kelly said. “It has a surplus of nearly $3 billion and is exceeding revenue projections. As a result of inflation, the state is overtaxing its residents, with nearly $1 billion in windfall revenue above projections from the sales tax and gas tax alone. Connecticut now has a choice. Are we going to return these tax dollars to struggling families to provide immediate relief? Or are we going to spend them on growing the size of government to unsustainable levels?