Connecticut Republicans plan to propose spending and revenue packages next week, marking the first time in several years that the legislature’s minority party offers a complete budget alternative to recommendations by the governor and majority Democrats.
House Republicans are expected to unveil their recommendations some time mid-week after consensus revenue projections are published on Monday. It was unclear Friday whether Senate Republicans would endorse the proposal and a spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
The proposal will be the minority party’s first complete budget since the 2017, when the legislature was more evenly divided.
That power dynamic led to the passage of a bipartisan budget in 2017, which included many of the fiscal guardrails that will limit state spending under this year’s budget and contributed to a series of surpluses, which have resulted in billions in excess funds being used to pay down long-neglected pension-related debt.
House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said Friday that those results contributed to the decision to offer a budget package this year.
“We are seeing five years of performance of the caps and the fiscal restraints that we advocated for in the 2017 budget,” he said. “I think it’s time now for us to reap the benefits of those caps and fulfill its intention by providing tax relief to the residents of Connecticut.”
The Republican proposal will set a third marker in budget negotiations that have so-far involved a $50.5-billion budget plan from Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, who favored a broad-based income tax cut, and a $51 billion rebuttal from legislative Democrats, who slightly scaled back the income tax proposal in favor of other tax relief policies.
Candelora said the GOP plan will resemble Lamont’s recommendations though it may propose deeper income tax cuts than those offered by the governor. Lamont called for reducing the current 3% rate to 2% and the 5% rate to 4.5%.
“We don’t feel the Democrats have gone far enough and so we feel it’s important that we advance a budget as an alternative to start a bipartisan conversation,” Candelora said.
On Thursday, House Speaker Matt Ritter welcomed the coming Republican proposal, calling it “awesome” during a morning press briefing. It would be far easier for the minority party to let Democrats sort out budget negotiations. Since assuming his position, Ritter said he and Majority Leader Jason Rojas had involved House Republicans in budget negotiations.
“As a matter of fact, I often joke with Vinnie, ‘Every year, I make you the most powerful guy in the building,’” Ritter said. “Seriously, if Vinnie comes and says, ‘Here’s 20 votes for the budget if you do these six things,’ we’ll look at it. But he’s a kingmaker.”
In a statement, Senate President Martin Looney said he looked forward to seeing the GOP proposal as “we haven’t had a full budget document from the Republicans since 2017.”
Both Ritter and Candelora said they hoped to see a final budget proposal win support from both parties this year.
However, state policymakers are still a long way from agreement on the matter. Many legislative Democrats feel the spending plan approved by the Appropriations Committee left too many needs unanswered as a result of constraints like the spending cap.
Ritter and Looney have publicly called for more investments in schools, higher education institutions, nonprofit service providers, and several groups of state-supported workers.
Earlier this month, the legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee advanced a tax plan, which attempted to boost state aid by accounting for around $400 million in ways that do not count against the spending cap. The governor, who has advocated for strict adherence to the fiscal constraints, said the tactics violate the cap.
On Thursday, Ritter suggested there may be broad support in the legislature for a budget that reduces the income tax but diverts $200 million in inflation-driven sales tax revenue to help families and entities negatively impacted by inflation.
“If you want to vote against that, go ahead but you have to explain to your constituents why,” Ritter said. “If the answer is ‘they took $98 million of sales tax revenue and put it into an inflation reduction account, so I had to vote against everything.’ Eh. That’d be a tough explanation.”
Candelora said the issue would be a “tough sticking point” and lawmakers from both parties were waiting to see what news Monday’s revenue projections bring. He said no such sales tax workaround would appear in the budget Republicans propose next week.
“It’s too tempting to violate these caps in a year of surplus but we all need to be reminded that those caps are supposed to be functioning both in years of surplus and in years of deficit,” Candelora said. “So while it sounds like there was no harm in doing it, it has a significant impact on the fiscal guardrails going down the road.”