August 18, 2017 06:07PM
By Mike Savino Record-Journal Staff
Democrats say they are closing in on a budget deal and now hope to have a vote sometime in mid-September.
Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, told reporters Thursday they are finding common ground and plan to present a revised budget proposal next week.
“I believe we’re getting closer,” Looney said. That plan also appears likely to include a sales tax increase, although not as steep as the one House Democrats pitched in late June.
Earlier this week, Aresimowicz and House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, sent an email to their 79 members indicating they intend to vote on a budget the week of Sept. 11.
Saturday will mark the 50th day into the fiscal year, and yet the state remains without a budget after the legislature never held a vote on a budget proposal. Lawmakers haven’t been able to find agreement on how to close a projected $3.5 billion deficit over the current and upcoming fiscal years.
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said in an interview with the Record-Journal Wednesday that he also thinks a mid-September vote is likely. He said lawmakers will likely feel pressure to act as municipalities face deep cuts in local aid under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s executive order, with the first round of payments coming in early October.
He also blamed Democrats, who hold a majority in the House and have Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman’s tie-breaking vote in the Senate, for not resolving the budget stalemate sooner. In particular, he questioned why Democrats would vote on a concession deal with the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition without a budget plan.
The deal is projected to save $1.57 billion in labor costs over the next two years, and the deal extends a benefits agreement with state employees for another five years through 2027. It also includes a no-layoff guarantee for four years.
Democrats said the agreement was critical to moving toward a budget when they approved it in July, and Fasano questioned Wednesday why talks aren’t further along.
Fasano said the SEBAC deal prevents the state from making changes to significant parts of the budget, and Democratic lawmakers should have a more formalized spending plan before accepting it.
Democrats say they are close, though, and that the key sticking points continue to revolve around Malloy’s proposals to shift municipal aid funding to needier cities and to remove hospitals’ sales tax exemption.
Lawmakers on both sides have been critical of both elements of Malloy’s budget — the municipal aid shift would result in deep cuts to other towns — but Looney said that requires a counterproposal that finds cuts or funding elsewhere.
Looney called it “sort of ironic” that municipal and local school officials have been complaining about the budget stalemate amid.
“The reality is it’s for their benefit that the struggle has gone on because we’re trying to advocate for more aid to municipalities and more education aid,” he said. Looney acknowledged Senate Democrats are also looking at sales tax revenues, either through a raised rate or removal of exemptions.
Aresimowicz, meanwhile, said a sales tax increase in the Democrats’ next proposal won’t be as high as the 6.99 percent his caucus suggested in June. The current rate is 6.35 percent.