The Legislature Has Approved a Budget
Yesterday, after the longest delay in modern memory, the state House and Senate finally approved a bipartisan budget bill. It now goes to the governor. While he could still veto the bill, the vote count in both chambers – 126-23 in the House and 33-3 in the Senate – indicates that there would likely be more than enough votes for an override.
In the nearly four months that Connecticut has been without a budget, the governor has been running the state by executive order, an order that eliminated or severely reduced education funding for more than half the state’s districts, cut municipal aid allotments, and dramatically cut funding to essential social services, leaving many towns unable to manage their budgets with any certainty. The enactment of the budget will put a stop to the executive order, as well as to fears of a massive shift to towns of part of the state’s teachers’ pension costs – a proposal still being promoted by the governor and, until recently, some majority legislators.
The budget represents a compromise agreement by leadership of both parties. It is not perfect, but it includes many important reforms that will begin the process of turning Connecticut’s finances around and restoring the confidence of the bond markets and the business community. I voted in favor.
Highlights of the budget include:
- Implementation of the constitutional spending cap that was first approved by voters in 1992
- A $1.9 billion annual cap on bonding, $500 million less than what was bonded last year
- Providing current year funding to school districts at levels similar to those of last year
- Introduction in 2019 of a new education cost sharing (ECS) formula that will provide predictability to every school district
- Phasing out taxes on social security, pensions, and estates
- Restoration of millions in state aid to towns
- Requiring the General Assembly to vote on every contract with state employee unions
- Reform of prevailing wage laws and municipal binding arbitration procedures, allowing municipalities to reduce their costs substantially
- Restoration of funding for essential services, including day and employment services for people with intellectual disabilities, the Care4Kids program, and Meals on Wheels
- A state employee hiring freeze
Agreement on the budget also stopped proposals introduced by the governor and/or majority leadership that would have raised taxes and the cost of living for Connecticut residents. These included new taxes on sales, cell phone usage, restaurants, second homes, hotels, and income; tolls; and shifting the state’s teachers’ pension costs to municipalities, which would have meant massive property tax increases and cuts to local school budgets.
I believe that substantial reforms to state government’s labor costs – including pensions, benefits, and overtime – are still necessary for a real turnaround in Connecticut’s economy and financial condition, and I am disappointed that the state employee union contract approved in late July by majority legislators prevented any of these from being included in the final budget. But the structural changes we did achieve – spending and bonding caps, municipal mandate relief, and union contract votes — are substantial, and represent the culmination of reform efforts that legislative Republicans had sustained for several decades.
Yesterday, House Republican Leader Themis Klarides said, “This budget itself isn’t necessarily something to celebrate, but it does provide me and the citizens of this state with hope.” I agree. Hope because it is a significant first step toward fiscal soundness for Connecticut. Hope because majority legislators have shown their willingness to change policies that have set the state on a downward fiscal trajectory and kept it there. Hope that our colleagues will continue to work with us to put aside special interests and politics to do what is best for the people of Connecticut.
Click here if you’d like to read more about the budget.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like to discuss the state budget or any other issue further. I always appreciate hearing from you.