Conn. passes austere spending, tax bills
Final budget plan subject to talks, lawmakers say
HARTFORD — The General Assembly’s two budget committees advanced state spending and tax proposals Friday, but Democratic lawmakers stressed that the final budget deal will be crafted over the coming weeks in negotiations with Governor Dannel P. Malloy.
That means that some aspects of the two bills, such as deep cuts to the state’s hospitals and the level of tax increases, could change during the closed-door talks.
Lawmakers and the Democratic governor face a June 5 deadline to reach a deal.
For example, Senator Toni Harp, Democrat of New Haven and cochairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said her panel intentionally left intact Malloy’s proposal to cut more than $550 million over two years in aid to hospitals, mostly to help cover the cost of uninsured patients.
‘‘I think that it’s too much,’’ Harp said of Malloy’s cut. ‘‘But I don’t think that we could address it without . . . having a conversation about revenue.’’
Harp said it has been a very difficult budget to craft, given the state’s financial challenges. She spoke of seeing participants cry at public hearings.
‘‘The truth of the matter is, people are hurt by this budget,’’ she said. ‘‘But you know, we just don’t have the money to do a lot of the things that we would like to do.’’
Whether to raise taxes beyond what is included in the tax package approved Friday by the Finance Revenue and Bonding Committee, 31 to 17, will be a key component of the upcoming negotiations.
Some advocacy groups for the needy are pushing for higher income taxes on the wealthy, requiring multistate corporations to pay taxes on profits earned in Connecticut, higher cigarette taxes, and other levies.
But House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, Democrat of Hamden, said Democrats need to stand for not raising taxes, even though some members, including his House majority leader, have said that higher taxes should not be taken off the table during negotiations.
‘‘I think that’s an important message for the public,’’ said Sharkey. ‘‘And if it is even on the table, ever, it needs to be an absolute last resort. I’m not convinced yet that that’s something we need to do. I’m not.’’
The Legislature’s minority Republicans said they expect a push for higher taxes.
House minority leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., Republican of Norwalk, said the budget plan approved Friday along mostly party lines does nothing to boost the state’s economy.
‘‘The document paints a very bleak picture,’’ he said. ‘‘It does not signal to the private sector that we are the place to be. And what it basically does say is, we are going to continue [with] the road we’ve been down’’ of borrowing and higher taxes.
Predicting that Republicans will not be invited to participate in the final budget negotiations, Cafero and Senate minority leader John McKinney, Republican of Fairfield, criticized the Democrats for not stopping a previously planned increase in one of the taxes on gasoline, wanting to change the rules of the state’s constitutional cap on spending, and protecting legislative commissions at the expense of scholarship money.
Sharkey accused both of taking ‘‘potshots’’ and ‘‘marginalizing themselves’’ by running away from a difficult situation.
In a written statement, Malloy’s budget secretary, Ben Barnes, said there are ‘‘problems that need to be addressed’’ in the Democrats’ budget proposal, such as education changes. The committee’s plan, for example, cuts funding to new charter schools.
‘‘As it stands, this proposal doesn’t get there,’’ he said, adding how the legislation is a good step toward ‘‘putting together a responsible budget.’’
The tax bill approved Friday delays Malloy’s proposal to slash automobile taxes until the 2018 assessment year.
But like Malloy’s budget, it extends the 20 percent corporate income tax surcharge until 2015 and creates a tax amnesty program to collect back taxes.