Demo­cratic panel OKs $43B bud­get

GOP re­jects plan, say it would raise taxes higher than La­mont has asked

The News-Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Ken Dixon

HART­FORD — Along strict party lines, the Gen­eral Assem­bly’s bud­get-writ­ing panel on Tues­day ap­proved a two-year,

$43.26 bil­lion bud­get, kick­ing off five weeks of ne­go­ti­a­tions with Gov. Ned La­mont over issues in­clud­ing whether towns will pay some — or any — teacher pen­sion costs.

The Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee’s vote will be com­bined with a Fi­nance Com­mit­tee tax pack­age on Wednesday or Thurs­day to yield the Demo­crat-dom­i­nated Leg­is­la­ture’s vi­sion of state spend­ing and taxes.

Re­pub­li­cans re­jected the 241page bud­get doc­u­ment, charg­ing that it would raise taxes even higher than the $1 bil­lion al­ready pro­posed by La­mont.

The spend­ing pack­age leaves sev­eral big issues up in the air. Paid fam­ily and med­i­cal leave, the hike in the $10.10 min­i­mum wage to $15 and shift­ing part of the bur­den for fund­ing the trou­bled teach­ers’ re­tire­ment plan will all be sub­ject to fu­ture ne­go­ti­a­tions with La­mont. A mil­lion dol­lars was ap­proved to study the pub­lic op­tion for health insurance.

“Over the course of the next few weeks, we have a lot of work to do as ne­go­ti­a­tions con­tinue,” La­mont said in a state­ment. “I look for­ward to hav­ing more im­por­tant con­ver­sa­tions with my col­leagues in the Gen­eral Assem­bly in or­der to craft a fi­nal and hon­est bud­get which helps Con­necti­cut grow good pay­ing jobs, demon­strates that state gov­ern­ment can live within its means and prepares our kids from Dan­bury to Daniel­son for a brighter eco­nomic fu­ture.”

The first year of the bud­get would be about $395 mil­lion or

about 1.9 per­cent more than the cur­rent level of spend­ing. The se­cond year would be a

3.6 per­cent spend­ing in­crease, about $768 mil­lion. In a re­lated mat­ter, rev­enue fig­ures for the cur­rent fis­cal year, re­leased at 5 p.m. Tues­day, in­di­cate the state will end the year June 30 with a

$582 mil­lion sur­plus, up more than $14 mil­lion from ear­lier in the month.

The Con­necti­cut Con­fer­ence of Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties said it sup­ports the bud­get’s in­creased aid for pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, but finds the is­sue of forc­ing towns and ci­ties to pay a por­tion of teacher re­tire­ment con­tri­bu­tions omi­nous.

“The Teach­ers’ Re­tire­ment Sys­tem man­date would be the largest un­funded state man­date in re­cent memory,” the CCM said in a state­ment.

“This bud­get does seem to lead with in­creased taxes,” said Rep. Gail Lavielle, RWil­ton, rank­ing mem­ber of the com­mit­tee, stress­ing that in re­cent years, Re­pub­li­cans con­trib­uted more to a fi­nal prod­uct. “We don’t know what they are yet, but that’s the ques­tion. We know they’re there. We just don’t know which ones. I will not be vot­ing for the bud­get to­day.”

While it also ap­peared to turn down the gov­er­nor’s pro­posal to have towns and ci­ties start to pay a por­tion of their teacher re­tire­ment con­tri­bu­tions, dur­ing a meet­ing with re­porters prior to the com­mit­tee meet­ing, Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague and Rep. Toni Walker, DNew Haven, the com­mit­tee co-chair­women, said the is­sue would be sub­ject to fur­ther ne­go­ti­a­tions with La­mont.

“I be­lieve it was a mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” said Osten. “I don’t think we clar­i­fied enough with OFA,” said Walker, re­fer­ring to the Leg­is­la­ture’s non­par­ti­san Of­fice of Fis­cal Anal­y­sis. “The two of us will take responsibi­lity for it,” Osten said.

“Ac­tu­ally, we have said out loud that we be­lieve that there may have to be a need for mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to pay into teach­ers’ pen­sion,” Osten said. “We planned on hav­ing that in the bud­get doc­u­ments that mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties would have to con­trib­ute to­ward teacher pen­sions. There was an er­ror in the doc­u­ments that we no­ticed this morn­ing af­ter they were al­ready printed.”

There are ref­er­ences in the Democrats’ bud­get that an­tic­i­pate fam­ily and med­i­cal leave and the $15 min­i­mum wage, in­clud­ing higher pay for non­profit so­cial ser­vice work­ers, but those bills have not been fi­nal­ized.

In Fe­bru­ary, La­mont pro­posed re­quir­ing most com­mu­ni­ties to ac­cept a three­year phase-in for as­sum­ing at least 25 per­cent of em­ployer costs of teacher pen­sions. Af­ter those three years, the towns and ci­ties would be re­spon­si­ble for pay­ing $71.5 mil­lion a year into the fund. Last year, pub­lic school teach­ers started pay­ing 7 per­cent of their salaries into the fund, up from 6 per­cent.

“Ap­pro­pri­a­tions has had some chal­lenges,” Walker said prior to the com­mit­tee vote. “This bud­get does not lead with taxes, be­cause we are the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee. We lead with the poli­cies and the ideas that are im­por­tant that we have been asked by our con­stituents to work on.”

But Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, lam­basted the plan as more stress on state tax­pay­ers with higher spend­ing at a time that gov­ern­ment can­not af­ford it.

“The Democrats’ pro­posal is a mas­sive step back­ward for Con­necti­cut fam­i­lies,” Fasano said in an early afternoon state­ment. “At a time when our state needs to get se­ri­ous about change, this pro­posal goes back to the old days of glut­tonous spend­ing, po­lit­i­cal hand­outs and made up sav­ings that are im­pos­si­ble to achieve.”

Fasano an­tic­i­pates a statewide tax in­crease of $1 bil­lion if the pack­age were ap­proved.

Se­nate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem­pore Mar­tin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said GOP law­mak­ers are “pos­tur­ing” un­til or un­less they is­sue their own line-by-line doc­u­ment.

“The only way to take into con­sid­er­a­tion Repub­li­can bud­get pri­or­i­ties is to see a fully vet­ted doc­u­ment that in­di­cates where they seek to raise rev­enue or cut spend­ing,” Looney said in an afternoon state­ment. “It is im­pos­si­ble to bud­get in a piece­meal fash­ion.”

The bud­get ac­cepts La­mont’s and state Trea­surer Shawn Wooden’s at­tempt to reamor­tize the trou­bled Teach­ers’ Re­tire­ment Sys­tem, which faces a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar pay­ment within just a few years. The leg­is­la­tion would stretch the pay­ments out 30 years, adding $17 bil­lion in long-term debt..

Pri­or­ity school dis­tricts would get $30.8 mil­lion in each of the two years. Debt ser­vice would to­tal $1.9 bil­lion in the first year and nearly $2 bil­lion the se­cond year.

The state must have a bal­anced bud­get. The new bud­get, which is the cen­tral rea­son for the leg­isla­tive ses­sion, will be ne­go­ti­ated be­hind closed doors be­tween law­mak­ers and La­mont, at a time when at least 900 bills re­main ac­tive in the ap­proval process. The statu­tory dead­line for the Gen­eral Assem­bly is midnight June 5.



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