By SUSAN HAIGH
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The Connecticut General Assembly’s budget-writing committee on Thursday approved a revised state spending plan of $19.04 billion _ $12.3 million more than what Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has recommended for next fiscal year.
The plan also is almost $50 million more than originally budgeted two years ago.
While Democratic leaders of the Appropriations Committee said much of the additional spending targets much-needed social service-related programs, the legislature’s minority Republicans claimed the plan is built on one-time gimmicks and “bad math” and is unaffordable.
“At a time when we’re looking at future deficits, such spending increases (are) nothing short of irresponsible,” said Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, of Fairfield, a Republican candidate for governor. “We have not seen the economy rebound in Connecticut.”
The budget bill passed on a 26-19 party-line vote; all the Democrats voted yes; all Republicans no.
The spending plan is half of the legislature’s response to the Democratic governor’s $19.03 billion budget proposal, unveiled in January. The Finance Revenue and Bonding Committee has until April 4 to vote on a tax package that responds to Malloy’s revenue proposals, such as his $55-per-person tax rebate initiative.
Ultimately, ideas from both committees will be incorporated into a final budget deal, to be negotiated between lawmakers and Malloy. The final agreement must be approved by the legislature before this year’s session ends May 7.
If all the state’s Medicaid spending was counted, the final budget total would be more than $2 billion higher. Lawmakers moved much of the Medicaid spending off-budget last year because a considerable amount is federal funding.
Lawmakers this year received thousands of emails and heard hours of testimony from members of the public struggling with long-term unemployment, developmental disabilities and mental health issues, said Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, co-chair of the Appropriations Committee. The committee also heard from people who’ve faced delays in getting their applications for long-term nursing care approved, prompting lawmakers to fund more staff to process those applications.
“A lot of people are hurting,” Bye said.
Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, the committee’s other co-chair, said lawmakers also decided to set aside more money for youth employment and afterschool programming.
“We tried to make sure that, with what little money we had, we spread it around so that it affected many of the families that we heard from,” she said.
But Republican lawmakers criticized their Democratic colleagues for how they propose to pay for those programs, as well as an additional 443 new state employees _ 37 more than Malloy proposed. They were critical of how the budget uses an accounting technique, for example, to spend more than $64 million of this year’s revenues on next year’s expenses.
“This budget is not truthful. It’s an illusion. It’s a gimmick, a trick, a deception. And we have to be honest with the people of the state of Connecticut when we’re doing our budgeting process,” said Sen. Robert Kane, R-Watertown.
Republicans said they hope to be included in the final, closed-door budget talks between the Democrats and Malloy, but were not optimistic.
“I suspect they won’t invite us into the room because they’re not going to want a dose of real medicine,” McKinney said. “But, if they do, we’re ready, willing and able to do that.”
Bye said it will be up to the General Assembly’s Democratic leadership to decide who will participate in those negotiations.
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