By SUSAN HAIGH AND SHANNON YOUNG
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The state Senate gave final legislative approval Tuesday night to a revised $20.5 billion budget that increases spending by $143 million in the new fiscal year that begins July 1.
The bill also covers an approximate $200 million deficit in the current fiscal year.
Senators voted 22-13 in favor of the measure, hours after the same bill passed in the House of Representatives. It now goes to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s desk to be signed into law. The bill passed the Senate along mostly party lines.
Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, praised the proposal for investing in education and other vital areas. He said state lawmakers and Malloy made the right decision last year to pass a two-year budget that covered a $3.3 billion deficit and included a mix of tax increases, spending cuts and employee concessions, but did not shred the state’s safety net or cut aid to cities and towns.
“We have made the tough choices,” he said, adding how the state is now poised for an economic recovery when the economy slowly improves.
But as in the House debate, the minority Republicans voiced concerns about slumping state revenues. Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, criticized Malloy for not listening to the GOP earlier this year when lawmakers urged him to make additional spending cuts to avoid a deficit this year.
“There was a hope that a deficit wouldn’t occur. Hope for the best, plan for the worst. That’s what we’re told, that’s not what this governor did,” he said, adding how the budget relies on borrowing and some financial gimmicks.
Williams defended the bill.
“Will you be able to find, on the edges of this budget, areas where we could have done a little bit better here and there? Of course,” he told reporters before the vote. “But compared to previous budgets submitted by Republican governors, this budget is about as good as it gets in times of economic crisis.”
The bill does not include funding for the first payment needed to convert the state budget to a system of accounting standards that are considered to be a more honest and accurate way of budgeting. Malloy’s administration said it still remains committed to making the conversion, which is supposed to take 17 years to complete.
The new budget includes cuts to many state agencies. Benjamin Barnes, Malloy’s budget director, said many of the reductions were mandated as part of a labor savings deal reached last year with the state employee unions that included 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.
Despite the spending cuts, Republican lawmakers said the reductions don’t go far enough. They proposed an alternate midterm budget adjustment on the Senate floor that would have trimmed the total spending to $20.4 billion in the next fiscal year. This and other Republican amendments failed to gain enough support.
Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, said the state needs to “tighten its belt” when it comes to spending, especially as Connecticut faces a potential deficit at the end of June. Much of the increase in the new budget stems from about $100 million in additional education spending as part of a new public schools overhaul package that also passed Tuesday.
“The last thing state government should be doing is obligating our citizens with more money to pay,” Kane said.
But Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven said the budget adjustment balances the concerns of the state.
“There are needs that have to be met in good times and in bad,” he said on the proposal’s expenditures.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)