New, Two-Year State Budget Passes Senate and Heads to Gov. Malloy

Next stop, the governor’s desk for his signature. A new, $44 billion budget plan for Connecticut that increases spending, maintains aid to cities and towns, legalizes more gambling, pays for post-Newtown laws and employs a controversial accounting move to stay within the spending cap passed the state Senate Monday night…barely. Three Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the proposal.

The debate was typical, much of it along the lines of the rhetoric that led up to the vote. The governor says there are no new or increased taxes, Republicans point out that it extends at least three taxes that were supposed to end, or “sunset.” The plan allows the gas tax to increase July 1st.

The spending cap issue continues to be a source of controversy. In essence, Democrats moved $6 billion over two years “off budget” and thereby not counted against the cap. They argue that money—such as Medicaid spending—that is reimbursed by the federal government should not be counted against the cap. Only what the state actually spends, the net amount, will now be counted. Dems argue that it brings the state in line with every other state that has a spending cap and removes a disincentive to pursue federal funds.

Many Republicans are irate over the cap move saying it’s a huge budget gimmick and amounts to a broken promise to taxpayers made when the cap was put into place as part of the deal to institute the income tax back in 1992.

At times, the budget debate leading up to the approval of the plan by the House (Sunday) and Senate (Monday) degenerated into an almost school yard back-and-forth. Some of the lowlights included the governor calling Republicans gutless (for not having an alternative budget while criticizes the Dems’); House Minority Leader Larry Cafero quipping “What’s next, cock fighting?” (when criticizing the Keno plan), Democratic Party Chair Nancy DiNardo—following the  fowl imagery—calling the GOP “chicken” (for not having their own, alternative budget) and Republican Party Chair Jerry Labriola, Jr. calling the eventually approved spending plan, “…[a] compost pile [that] has more smoke and mirrors than a 70’s disco.” That one was a bit more creative but not much. These folks need some new writers.

As The Shad pointed out before the vote, there were Senate Democrats who were unhappy with the budget but not enough to sink it. The vote was 19 to 17, meaning they had just two votes to spare (Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman would have broken an 18-18 tie with a “yes” vote). Sens. Paul Doyle (Wethersfield), Joan Hartley (Waterbury) and Gayle Slossberg (Milford) voted against the bill.