Despite Some Reservations, Senate Democrats to Pass New Two-Year Budget

Some of the majority state Senate Democrats in the General Assembly are certainly not wild about parts of the new, two-year spending plan passed by the state House of Representatives just after 5 a.m. Sunday morning. However they are expected to follow suit, approve the budget and send it to Gov. Malloy.

The Senate takes up the measure sometime Monday. The debate is expected to be long and drawn out as nearly every senator will speak whether they support the plan or oppose it and Republicans will offer plenty of amendments.

Senate Majority Leader Marty Looney says some parts of the budget bill, such as the legalization of keno, don’t sit well with some senators. “Keno is controversial but it’s a necessary source of the revenue structure to avoid any new taxes or more spending cuts,” Looney said. “Plus, it’s a voluntary [payment] that people can choose to pay or not.”

Some Senate Democrats had balked at the much-debated energy auction as well as the governor’s original proposal to redefine the spending cap. They were placated when the auction idea was dropped and when another maneuver was employed so the spending cap isn’t changed.

Legislative Democrats and the Malloy administration decided to move nearly $6.4 billion “off budget” to stay under the cap. The move entails not counting Medicaid spending that is reimbursed by the federal government. If it’s reimbursed, they argue, it’s not a “state expenditure” for the purposes of the cap. “This is what most other states do. Only what the state spends, not what the federal government reimburses is counted against any spending cap,” Looney said.

The move also removes a type of disincentive to pursue federal dollars. Under the current system, if the state wanted to go after available federal dollars that would reimburse the state, state officials, at times, couldn’t do it if it exceeded the spending cap.

Republicans don’t like the move calling it a budget gimmick. They say the cap was a “promise” to taxpayers in the state when it was included as part of the income tax implementation under Gov. Lowell Weicker. They say that promise is now being broken by “circumventing” the spending cap. All Senate Republicans are expected to vote against the plan.

Yet even with the passage of the budget in the House, some Senate Democrats are leery of the budget proposal that they will discuss in a caucus Monday before bringing the package to the floor. One caucus member tells The Hanging Shad at three Senate Dems would like to see more spending cuts even if it’s a symbolic gesture to the public that lawmakers are aware of the still struggling economy and the need to be fiscally responsible.

It’s unclear what the vote tally will be but Democrats hold a 22-14 majority in the Senate so they can afford to have a few members vote against the plan and still have it pass.

Even after the budget passes, the legislature has to pass what bills that actually implement the budget (implementers). If they can’t get to the implementers before midnight Wednesday, special session will be needed. Sen. Looney says the hope—and the goal—is to have everything done in time.

It’s Looney, as the majority leader, who makes the motion at midnight to adjourn the session “sine die”—or “without another day” or without assigning a day; ending for an indefinite period of time. At that point, the hall will erupt with applause for a completed 2013 legislative session.