HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut lawmakers passed a plan Tuesday with mostly Democratic votes to fix the state's mid-year budget deficit by cutting spending and shifting money from accounts, while also pledging to scrutinize state employee overtime and possibly close some state facilities for the disabled.
The plan also reduces some business taxes in hopes of improving the state's business climate.
But the General Assembly failed to secure enough votes for a resolution that could have potentially put a constitutional "lock-box" in place late next year, protecting transportation revenues from being spent on other programs.
The deficit-cutting proposal passed the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on a mostly party-line vote of 75-65 on Tuesday night. It cleared the Democratic-controlled Senate earlier by a vote of 20-15.
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he'll sign the bill into law. He called legislators back to the Capitol for Tuesday's special legislative session after weeks of negotiations failed to produce a bipartisan agreement on how to cover an approximately $350 million deficit in the current $20 billion budget.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said while there wasn't a bipartisan vote on the package, it did "reflect bipartisan thinking." Looney said Democrats found common ground with the Republicans on issues such as reducing state employee overtime and eventually closing the Southbury Training School and other state facilities for the developmentally disabled.
Republicans said the package still doesn't do enough to end the cycle of budget deficits Connecticut seems to experience year after year, as well as projected deficits.
"Here we are again, doing another deficit mitigation package," said Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown.
Some Republicans criticized the plan for balancing the budget with short-term fixes, such as transferring $5.7 million from various accounts to the state's general fund, including the school bus seat belt account, and $15.1 million from public colleges and universities. They questioned why it didn't include some major cost-cutting proposals, such as closing the Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown. Democrats said they decided to remove it from the budget at the last minute, agreeing Malloy can take such a step using his executive authority.
"We don't have the luxury to keep trying to fix this piecemeal," said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby.
Ben Barnes, Malloy's budget director, contends the plan "puts us in good shape to end the year in balance."
The package restores some of the cuts Malloy imposed this fall to the state's hospitals, which launched a statewide ad campaign warning the reductions could harm services and patients, and to social service agencies. In particular, it restores more than $4.5 million Malloy had cut in September from grants to mental health and substance abuse treatment providers.
Jeffrey Walter, interim CEO of the Connecticut Community Providers Association, thanked lawmakers and Malloy for restoring much of the funding, saying the "final agreement avoids the most devastating reductions."
The deficit-cutting plan cuts some state business taxes. For example, changes were made to how companies calculate their corporate income tax liability — an issue raised by General Electric Co., which has threatened to move out of Connecticut.
Meanwhile, the sales tax exemption was eliminated for residential weatherization products, such as programmable thermostats and insulation.
Despite earlier calls from some lawmakers to possibly scale back Malloy's proposed 20-year, $100 billion transportation overhaul, no changes were made. However, there were not enough votes to pass a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to create a so-called lock box for transportation revenues. Proponents fell 14 votes short of the 114 needed in the House of Representatives to put a question on the November 2016 statewide ballot.
It's now up to the 2017 General Assembly to put the question on the 2018 ballot, or else lawmakers need to try again next year with a revamped resolution.
Malloy wanted the lock box legislation passed quickly. His spokesman, Devon Puglia, said Tuesday's vote was still a "bipartisan step forward" and the administration is "going to keep pushing to ensure it gets done."