Nonprofit rally
Supporters of Connecticut community nonprofit providers rally outside the state Capitol Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

More than 1,000 supporters of Connecticut community nonprofit providers rallied Wednesday outside the state Capitol with funding requests that far outpace the increases under consideration by policymakers in late-stage budget negotiations. 

By late morning, the Capitol’s south-facing lawn was a sea of employees, clients and supporters of non-profit service providers, many of them wearing green t-shirts supplied by the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance. The group represents more than 100 providers which offer a range of social safety net services once supplied by state government. 

The group has pushed for lawmakers to include ambitious funding increases in the next two-year state budget: a 9% boost in the first year, followed by a 7% increase in the second. After a decade of flat funding, the providers argue that recent boosts have failed to keep pace with inflation. 

During the rally, the alliance’s CEO and president, Gian Carl Casa, pointed to the state’s multi-billion projected budget surplus. He asked the crowd if those funds gave the state the flexibility to support a series of causes. 

“Can it afford more for people who need mental health and addiction services? Can it do more for people with developmental disabilities and their families? How about the people who need housing and shelter? Can the state do more for people coming back to their hometowns who want to start anew after a term in prison? And can the state afford to pay nonprofits so their staff can earn a living wage?” he asked.

In each case, the crowd answered loudly in the affirmative. 

Gian Carl Casa
CT Community Nonprofit Alliance CEO and president Gian Carl Casa addresses supporters Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

State policymakers do not expect to satisfy those requests when they unveil what is expected to be a bipartisan budget agreement in the coming days. The budget — which has been negotiated with input from the legislature’s Democratic majorities, Republican minorities, and the governor’s office — will be restrained by fiscal guardrails limiting how much the state can spend.

During a press briefing Wednesday, House Speaker Matt Ritter told reporters he expected the agreement would boost funding for nonprofit providers by around 2.5% per year, a number he said would be supplemented by other spending including remaining federal pandemic funding and additional support for group home workers.

“The folks that are protesting, I think our message is that we’ve heard you. We can’t get all the way to 7[%] because there’s other things in the budget like [Education Cost Sharing grants] that people care about, excess costs, whatever it may be,” he said. “We really have come a long way and if you only look at the nonprofit provider line item without looking at the budget in totality, I think it gives a false impression.” 

The expected funding is on par with budget recommendations made by the House Republican caucus, which contained the highest nonprofit rates of four proposals under consideration. On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said legislators from both parties were trying to maximize funding to the programs, but wanted to make sure the state could continue to support that funding in the future. 

“What we have to look at is long term sustainability. This is an ongoing expense that Connecticut is going to incur,” Candelora said. 

Outside on the Capitol lawn, advocates argued that support for Connecticut’s most vulnerable populations should take precedence over both the broad-based income tax cuts, which are expected to be included in the budget, and the proposal’s adherence to fiscal guardrails limiting spending. 

Tom Fiorentino
Tom Fiorentino, a board member of Arc of Connecticut Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

“You know, there’s a huge difference between not being able to act and refusing to act,” Tom Fiorentino, a board member of Arc of Connecticut, said. “With our resources currently, if we do nothing, then we’re refusing to act.” 

Policymakers argue that the state surplus enabling funding increases to a variety of causes are due in large part to the fiscal guardrails that have constrained spending since 2017 and resulted in billions in payments on Connecticut’s unfunded pension liabilities. 

For years, lawmakers weighed difficult budget cuts and grappled with persistent deficits rather than the recent surpluses. Ritter recalled those conversations on Wednesday. 

“I know no one wants to hear it, but the state was at the bottom of the ocean and nobody got anything,” he said. “This used to be the message from prior budget chairs and [Appropriations Committee co-chair Rep.Toni Walker] would have to go in there and say ‘Your ECS was only cut 3%, your muni aid was cut 6%, and nonprofits were held harmless.” 

He said the members once applauded such news. 

“When we’re talking about 3% and it being sustainable, we think that’s a victory.”