Appropriations Committee co-chairs Sen. Cathy Osten and Rep. Toni Walker share a word during a meeting on April 18, 2023. Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

The legislature’s Appropriations Committee released a two-year state budget proposal Tuesday which out-spends recommendations from the governor in areas like Medicaid expansions and education support but forgoes countless other investments in order to comply with recently renewed spending limitations. 

The committee, tasked with developing a state spending plan, responded to a $50.5-billion budget plan proposed by Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont in February with a $51-billion legislative rebuttal during a morning meeting. A legislative tax-writing committee is expected to present a revenue plan later this week. 

Committee leaders have sought to temper the expectations of interest groups, which have competed for a share of an expected $3 billion surplus, noting that a state spending cap left them with little latitude beyond the largely current services budget proposed by Lamont.

Sen. Cathy Osten, a Sprague Democrat who co-chairs the committee, began Tuesday’s meeting by acknowledging those limitations.

“We have not made everybody happy this year,” Osten said. “We have stuck to the confines of the spending cap.”

“We spent more than the governor on targeted areas that we believe are important to the state of Connecticut and its residents,” she said.

Those areas include expediting scheduled increases in the Education Cost Sharing Grants that offset the cost of operating public schools. Where the governor stuck to a previously passed schedule by spending $45.4 million in the first year and $90.7 million in the second, the committee recommended spending $48 million and nearly $96 million. Those boosts fall short of investments proposed by education advocates.

The committee also recommended spending $3 million not in Lamont’s budget to broaden Medicaid eligibility for otherwise eligible undocumented immigrant children from the current cutoff of 12 years old to 15. The expansion falls short of a bill passed by the Human Services Committee, which expanded the cutoff to 18.

Other priorities from lawmakers and advocates received either minor increases or were unfunded altogether. A session-long push to provide free school meals for all public school students did not receive funding. 

The state’s higher education institutions would receive a modest boost from Lamont’s proposal. UConn’s funding would increase from roughly $656 million over two years to around $660 million but would remain well below the university’s funding level during the last biennium when federal pandemic grants enhanced its overall resources. 

Nonprofit social services providers, meanwhile, received only a 1% increase over the governor’s proposal in the first year of the committee’s budget and no increase in the second. The Connecticut Community Nonprofit Alliance responded quickly with a statement, saying the budget was “beyond disappointing and defies understanding” given the state’s surplus.

“We understand the policy constraints under which the Committee has been working and appreciate their hard work. But make no mistake: those policy constraints were choices. Different ones need to be made. Different priorities need to be set,” said Gian Carl Casa, the group’s president and CEO.

More statements of frustration came from advocates seeking to broaden Medicaid eligibility for adults with disabilities and a union pressing for healthcare benefits for childcare professionals funded under the Care4Kids subsidy program.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Rep. Toni Walker, a New Haven Democrat who serves as the committee’s other co-chair, said the work on the budget would continue throughout this week.

“Yes, we are going to have some more conversations today and, yes, we are all going to understand what our limitations are and we’re going to work within those constraints,” Walker said. 

Appropriations Committee co-chairs Rep. Toni Walker and Sen. Cathy Osten (seated) talk with ranking Republicans Sen. Eric Berthel and Rep. Tammy Nuccio. Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Ranking Republicans on the committee suggested there may be bipartisan support for the two-year proposal depending on what is eventually included in the final product.

“There’s a lot of needs that we have in this state right now and I want to be sure that the budget that we’re putting forward is going to address that,” Rep. Tammy Nuccio, R-Tolland, said. “My hope has always been that this is a bipartisan budget where the voice of the minority is listened to, heralded, and reflected in this budget along with all the work the majority has done. I’m happy with the process that we’ve had so far.” 

The governor released a statement thanking the committee for its work and for drafting a budget that works within the state’s fiscal guardrails. 

“We’re reviewing the details of the legislature’s spending plan, look forward to meeting with them to discuss their proposals, and will work with them to pass an honestly balanced budget that provides growth, opportunity, and affordability for Connecticut’s residents, families, and businesses,” Lamont said.