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Budget Bill Passes Through House

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Connecticut State House (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)

Connecticut State House (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)

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By SUSAN HAIGH
Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The state House of Representatives approved a $20.5 billion budget deal early Tuesday that would increase spending by $143 million in the next fiscal year, address a growing deficit and boost aid to cities and towns.

The Democrat-controlled House voted 95-49 along party lines at about 2:30 a.m. in favor of the deal that was reached between Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Democratic legislative leaders. The proposal now heads to the Senate.

The budget plan for the year that begins July 1 would increase education aid to cities and towns by $50 million. But it also would trim about $28 million from Malloy’s original $128 million education proposal.

Republicans, the minority party in the General Assembly, immediately raised concerns.

Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said the proposal was unsustainable and contained short-term gimmicks. He was particularly upset about how the bill would divert $224 million in funds originally set aside to prepay debt payments to cover this year’s deficit, which has grown to about $200 million, or $275 million if accounting standards are used.

“There is a crack in the dam, and we’re plugging that crack with chewing gum,” he said.

Last year, the legislature passed a two-year, $40.1 billion budget that attempted to cover a $3.3 billion deficit. But since then, a deficit has developed in the current fiscal year. Lawmakers are now fixing that problem, as well as making revisions to the next fiscal year’s budget.

Much of the additional spending in next year’s budget stems from a wide-ranging education overhaul bill. Malloy and the Democrats announced a compromise deal on that bill late Monday, as well.

While the bill trims money from Malloy’s original education spending proposal, it includes additional funding for struggling schools; increased per-pupil funding for charter schools; additional funds for magnet, vocational-technical, and agricultural science high schools; and financial incentives to local school boards that launch charter schools and reach agreements with their unions over flexible staffing.

Money is also phased in over time for 1,000 new early childhood education slots in low-income communities.

“We must invest in early childhood education, and this bill does it,” said Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee.

Lawmakers, however, reduced the funding levels in Malloy’s original education reform bill for “talent development” for teachers and the so-called Commissioner’s Network, which enables the state education commissioner to provide “intensive supports and interventions” in 25 of the state’s lowest-performing schools over the next three years.

Walker said other highlights of the budget bill include funding for school-based health clinics, replenishment of state grants for attractions and historic sites, and funding for a nonviolence program for urban youth. The bill includes no additional tax increases.

The bill includes cuts to some state agencies. Benjamin Barnes, Malloy’s budget director, said many of the reductions were mandated as part of a of the labor savings deal reached last year with the state employee unions, such as reductions in planned salary increases. The administration and lawmakers had to come up with about $900 million in spending cuts and savings initiatives as part of that deal.

Barnes said reductions were also made to address lower than expected revenues. Connecticut has seen a drop in anticipated personal income tax collections since the original two-year budget was crafted.

“We had to cut the budget down quite a bit to deal with the changed revenue situation,” Barnes said. “I think it’s a lot of pretty real cuts in order to get it down.”

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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