House passes state budget bi-partisan agreement - WFSB 3 Connecticut


House passes state budget bi-partisan agreement

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The state House of Representatives convened at 10 a.m. on Thursday to vote on a state budget. (WFSB) The state House of Representatives convened at 10 a.m. on Thursday to vote on a state budget. (WFSB)

Connecticut lawmakers in the House voted overwhelmingly to pass a bi-partisan agreement after the Senate gave its approval shortly early Thursday morning.

At 12:40 p.m., the House joined the Senate in passing the two-year, about $41 billion bipartisan budget. The final vote was 126 yes and 23 no. However, it is unclear if the governor will sign the state budget. 

"I hope there are a lot of green lights for this budget because It will clearly illuminate across the darkest of days I can remember," House Majority Leader Matt Ritter said. "We found a way to pull through."

Connecticut has been without a state budget since the beginning of July and continues to be the only state in that situation.

"This is not a miracle but this is a product of a lot of good will and a lot of friendship," Ritter said. "Not perfect."

However, after 117 days, Connecticut may have a state budget. 

"The spending cap, I am embarrassed to say the state of Connecticut told us to put one in place back in 1992," House Republican Leader Themis Klarides said. "It's 2017, we finally got that."

Klarides said she would have preferred the first budget, but this is a compromise.

"When you have to sit in a room and figure out if you can get enough in a document you believe moves the state forward and that's what we all did," Klarides said. 

 Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, Klarides and Ritter spoke after the vote and said they are "hopeful we can move the state forward."

"What we did was a historic move in Connecticut politics, coming out with a bi-partisan budget and doing it under these extreme pressures is amazing," Aresimowicz said. 

Malloy’s Director of Communications Kelly Donnelly said the governor "has been calling on the legislature to take action to adopt a balanced and responsible budget," since January.   

"We recognize that they believe that they have achieved this end and are now sending a budget to him for his consideration and we appreciate their work.  At the same time, it is incumbent on the Governor and his administration to carefully review this budget – a complete document of nearly 900 pages that was made available only a few minutes before it was called on the floor.  Unfortunately, our review has already uncovered egregious problems relating to the hospital tax that could put the state budget out of balance by over a billion dollars. Staff will continue to analyze the bill, weighing its merits and faults, so that the Governor can arrive at an informed and carefully considered decision regarding his support," Donnelly said in a statement on Thursday. 

Malloy earlier in the day "raised the red flag" over the hospital tax. The governor's office said if the feds don't approve, Connecticut is on the hook for $1 billion.

The budget closes huge deficits without raising the income or sales taxes. It imposes modest cuts in aid to cities and towns and provides help to keep Hartford out of bankruptcy.

As for the capitol city, lawmakers said they feel Chapter 9 would be bad for the entire state. There is money to help Hartford, at least $40 million, but the city must restructure its debt and agree to financial oversight.

"We made it clear we were not interested in a short term fix or a Band Aid and I think the legislative leaders embraced that approach," Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said. 

The budget includes a cigarette tax increase, a fee of $0.25 for ride-sharing services, and the scaling back of tax credits. It also includes hospital changes as agreed to by Connecticut hospitals to leverage more federal funding.  It also sweeps a special fund dedicated to clean energy.

"When I speak to a customer, they say to me all the time 'how do you pay for all of these services you are going to be providing in my home,'" Vivan Perez with HE-Energy Solutions said. "And I say 'this is a fund you have paid into.'"

The budget that passed sweeps $130 million over two years and that's money paid by utility ratepayers. Clean energy advocates said this will hurt programs the support energy efficiency and the jobs they create.

For Democratic Senator Paul Doyle, he said this was a personal and political struggle. Doyle voted for the GOP-backed budget last month because he said he wanted something better.

"We are in such difficult times,” Doyle said. “I thought we had to change the direction and debate and course of Connecticut. And this budget makes systemic changes that will help us in the future."

Connecticut Democratic Party Chairman Nick Balletto said the budget passed by the House and Senate was "significantly better than the GOP proposal that passed the General Assembly in September, and it's better specifically because of the actions of Democratic leaders."

 "This is not the Democratic budget we initially envisioned. However, we remain fiercely committed to making the necessary hard choices and leading with our values. We'll continue to make steps toward putting Connecticut in a better place as we continue to do the work Republican leaders neglected for decades. We know that the governor and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly will continue to fight for the values we hold dear as a party," Balletto said in a statement on Thursday. 

To read the full statement, click here

Lawmakers in the state Senate voted 33-3 in favor of the budget during the overnight hours.

“After months of negotiations, Democrats and Republicans have worked together to produce a truly bipartisan budget that invests in our economy, maintains strong levels of education funding and protects local property taxpayers while rejecting damaging cuts to higher education and scholarship programs,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney, a Democrat.

"Nothing should ever be stagnant, the states not stagnant, the budget shouldn’t be stagnant and if we can find a way to move Connecticut forward, then we have to go that direction," Sen. Len Fasano, a Republican, said in a statement on Thursday. "We can’t look at 'the budget is done, let's put that away until we hit a deficit.' We should be working on the budget consistently."

The University of Connecticut sent an email to its students and employees regarding the budget's figures.

"This new budget is clearly a far better outcome with respect to funding for UConn. A cut of $309 million would have been catastrophic and we are relieved that the General Assembly was able to avoid making that kind of cut to the university," UConn President Susan Herbst said in a statement on Thursday. "That said, a two-year cut of $143 million is still a very steep reduction. It will clearly have a significant negative impact on the university and will mean difficult decisions."

To read the full statement, click here

Connecticut lawmakers said the plan includes a new Educational Cost Sharing formula that takes into account CCJEF and Meskill court decisions, enrollment, poverty, wealth and number of English Language Learners.

It also averts a need for educational cuts in Malloy's executive order. 

"We stood up for UConn, we stood up for middle-class students for scholarships, we stood up for municipal aid, we stood up for education funding and lots of other kind of reforms in our state so I think because of that and because people understood we needed to come together as leaders, make difficult decisions, you saw an overwhelming vote today," Sen. Bob Duff, a Democrat, said in a statement on Thursday.

Finally, the budget provides critical aid to help homeowners impacted by crumbling foundations in eastern Connecticut. It establishes a special public benefit captive insurance not-for-profit company to manage funding. It also makes it a transparent and open process to distribute the funding to assist homeowners. 

“This compromise budget restores millions of dollars to our towns and cities, our schools, and to core state services. At the same time it reduces future spending by implementing a spending cap and bonding cap among other structural changes,” Deputy Senate Republican President Pro Tempore Kevin Witkos said in a statement on Thursday.

Lawmakers will be back at the State Capitol in a couple of months for regular session. 

Stay with Eyewitness News for continuing coverage of the state budget crisis.

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