Senate Democrats Hold Fast on State Budget

Source: CT General Assembly and the League of Women Voters Education Fund, Inc.

It was a long night in Hartford, but the drama of the evening to see who might mutiny against the Governor’s proposed budget dwaddled when the first votes were taken just after midnight early Tuesday morning. First, the session began with self accolades by Democrats explaining the Governor’s budget followed by Republicans who focused on the new tax structure. After each of the 36 state senators laid out their role in crafting the budget and opinion, Senate Democrats passed an amendment to add an additional $200 million to the Governor’s proposal. Introductions and opinions alone ran over 8 hours – and then Senate Republicans began introducing their 75 different amendments to pair, splice and break up portions of the legislature’s tax and spending package.

The first vote was a proposal by Senate Republicans for an alternative budget with no tax increase. That failed on a party line vote 22-14. That’s ok. Surely a single Democrat would like one of their other 74 amendment proposals lined up on the docket. Yes… 74 proposed changes. And why not? The budget itself is long and has over 80 different new taxes, fees, tax exemption closures and special revenues. Republicans complained that the proposal wasn’t Constitutional. A provision in the state Constitution provides that the balance be balanced. Missing is a $2 billion gap which Democrats hope to fill through concessions from the state labor unions. Those negotiations are still underway. The Governor’s office hopes an agreement will be made by Friday.

“If such an agreement is only days away – why are we rushing so quickly to pass this budget now? This is the earliest the General Assembly has ever considered a budget,” said Senate Minority leader John McKinney.

His plea, as well as that of other Republicans fell on deaf ears. The caucus raised 18 of their amendments, but each failed on strict party line votes. Proposals to restore a property tax credit of $500 failed. “This means every home owner in the state automatically owes the state an additional $200,” remarked McKinney.

Sen. Frantz of Greenwich proposed sunsetting the taxes. That failed. An exemption for clothing under $50 was proposed as it exists today. That failed. “If this budget passes, you will be taxed head to foot,” thundered Goshen Republican Andrew Roraback. “If you go for a pedicure, you’ll now be taxed. If you get a haircut, you’ll be taxed. If you wear a hat to your pedicure -you’ll be taxed on your hat.”

Sen. Joe Markley

Wolcott State Senator Joe Markley drew reference to his role in organizing an anti-income tax rally in 1991. Then he referenced the Bible. “In Exodus, the Lord commanded Moses that a tithe – a tax- be instituted. It was 10%. And in 4,000 years the Lord has never elected to raise it.” Markley in particular took aim at a proposal to reduce personal use funds for nursing home patients. Currently, patients receive $69 per month to use for haircuts and other necessities they might require. The Governor’s budget reduces this allocation by $9. Markley’s proposal was to eliminate press secretaries and drivers in certain executive offices and re-allocate the money back to nursing home patients. “Are you to say that in this multibillion dollar budget, we cannot find one million dollars to give back to the poor people in nursing homes?” he pleaded with his colleagues. The suggestion was defeated by Democrats 22-14.

Markley’s final attempt to amend the budget came when he took aim at the New Britain busway. Late last week the state’s bonding commission approved nearly $900 million to fund the transformation of a railway into a busway with stops along the way to Hartford. The controversial proposal prompted the senator to write a column in the Whisper. While the budget includes funding allocated towards bonds, his attempt was ruled out of order by Sen. Looney of New Haven, arguing that they couldn’t touch bonding commission rulings.

Despite their legislative authority, this seems to be one of the weird quirks of state government. Last year some legislators were unsure whether or not they could approve or disaprove state labor contracts.

Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, who presided over the debate remarked “No relevance of this amendment is sufficiently linked to the underlying bill that would make it

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman

germane. The point is well taken and the amendment is ruled out of order.”

Markley replied in a moment of levity: “Madam Chair, I am frustrated, and I respect the ruling of the chair, but if I am driven to an act of civil disobedience, it will be upon Sen. Looney’s head.” The tired chamber erupted in laughter.

At this point, Meriden Senator Len Suzio proposed a single amendment to restructure the state’s debt to a lower interest rate. “The debt would be the same, but it would reduce the debt service in Connecticut.” Payment just to retire past debt is about 25% in Connecticut. Even that proposal failed on a party line vote. Suzio had a number of other similar amendments restoring the $500 tax credit (which will now be reduced to only $300) and other taxes, but elected not to bring them up out of discouragement. He also had a proposal to reduce state funding to Planned Parenthood by $1,000,000 but decided not to raise that in the early morning. At least one other Republican tried to dissuade him even to bring it up as an amendment. Currently, the for-profit business is granted over $3,000,000 annually.

After 12 hours of debate and 18 proposed amendments all failed along strict party lines, the final tally had slight surprise. Three Democrats crossed party lines to vote against the Governor’s budget. They included Joan Hartley (Waterbury), Ed Meyer (Guilford) and Gayle Slossberg (Milford).


One Comment to “Senate Democrats Hold Fast on State Budget”

  1. Nice write-up Chris. I wish the outcome of this budget debacle wasn’t as slanted as it was….and has been for the past 50 years. CT voters are slow on the uptake and keep voting these liberals in. By the time they realize that there is only lint left in their pockets, it will be too late.

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