Advocates for social equity causes and non-profit service providers converged on the state Capitol Thursday as both groups began to push for a boost in funding in the two-year state budget package which lawmakers will begin negotiating with the governor’s office next month.
Gov. Ned Lamont will propose a multi-billion dollar budget document to the General Assembly in early February and the legislature’s budget-drafting committees will respond with their own proposals in the following weeks.
This year’s budget debate will play out as the state enjoys a flush rainy day fund and an expected $3.1 billion surplus. Key lawmakers began to spotlight their own spending priorities Thursday through press conferences aimed at highlighting underserved causes in need of additional support.
Sen. Cathy Osten, a Sprague Democrat who co-chairs the Appropriations Committee, hosted the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, a network of providers who have taken on many of the social service roles once provided by state government.
During the morning press conference in the Legislative Office Building, some of those state-supported providers said they have struggled to maintain vital services and retain staff amid rising inflation after decades of underfunding.
“There has long been an assumption that nonprofits will do their job anyway because that’s who they are,” Luis Perez, CEO of Mental Health Connecticut, said. “We are told to hold programs together… but even elastic bands have a stretching mark and they become brittle and they break. Our safety net depends on them.”
Gian Carl Casa, president and CEO of the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, said his group would seek a 9% funding boost for nonprofits in the first year of the state budget and a 7% increase in the second year. After that, Casa said nonprofit funding should be indexed against inflation rates.
“If not now, when?” Casa asked. “When will people who rely on nonprofits see the level of program funding that they were seeing in 2007?”
Osten, who co-chairs the legislature’s spending committee, said she would again push to direct more support to the providers. She had some bipartisan support on Thursday as Sen. Eric Berthel, the committee’s ranking Republican senator, joined her for the press conference and said nonprofits provided the needed services more efficiently than state agencies.
While the nonprofit event took place in a quiet legislative conference room, another advocacy group called Recovery For All crowded the Capitol’s first floor Hall of Flags in the early afternoon for a press event that resembled the tone and mood of a rally.
The coalition of labor unions, faith groups, and community leaders called on state policymakers to enact an ambitious agenda of progressive policies including a more progressive tax structure, making undocumented residents eligible for HUSKY health coverage, a living wage scale for early childhood educators, as well as permanently expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, and making permanent the one-time child tax credit offered last year.
Several speakers called on Connecticut to adopt tax policy that would require the state’s wealthiest residents to pay a greater share of their income. The group’s agenda included a 5% capital gains tax on households earning $1 million or more and a 2 mills property tax increase on property valued over $1.5 million.
SEIU 1199 President Rob Baril referenced a speech by the late Martin Luther King, Jr.
“One of the things he said is there’s nothing new about poverty. What’s new is that we have the resources to end it,” Baril said. “That’s exactly where we stand right here in 2023 in Connecticut. There’s no reason that long-term care workers in group homes and home care, who are funded by our state tax dollars, have to work 80 hours a week or 100 hours a week to put food on the table.”
While Connecticut is one of several states likely to weigh legislation to shift some of its tax burden to its wealthiest residents, Lamont, who in 2021 earned $54 million in capital gains, resisted efforts to raise taxes on top earners throughout his first term.
The governor seemed inclined to maintain that position earlier this week at a press conference where he announced his plan to propose a policy restoring a pass-through entity tax, which benefits the state’s business owners by removing a cap on tax deductions. During the event, Lamont was asked whether he would consider offsetting proposed middle-class tax cuts with higher taxes on wealthy households.
“That’s not a tax cut,” Lamont said Wednesday. “I want to set an example that Connecticut is for the first time in a generation cutting taxes — really cutting taxes across the board, cutting taxes with a special emphasis on working families and middle-class folks.”
Advocates and lawmakers at Thursday’s Recovery For All event seemed determined to pursue a different tack.
“[Voters] expect us to come into this building and do the work of the people,” Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said. “The work of the people isn’t saying to the richest amongst us, ‘Hey, here’s another tax break. Here’s another way you can escape your responsibilities, where you can escape paying what you owe.’ That is not the work we should be doing here.”