Connecticut has a budget for the next two years, as Gov. Ned Lamont prepares to sign into law a state spending plan that received significant bipartisan support in the House and Senate. The $46.4 billion budget was approved 116-31 in the House on Wednesday morning, and 31-4 in the Senate later that evening.
Lamont called it “the most progressive, transformative, and life-changing budget our state has ever seen,” adding that “the investments in equity will lift up our state for generations to come.”
The budget leverages about $1.75 billion in federal pandemic relief funds, leaving a surplus of more than $1 billion without touching the state’s rainy day fund. The budget also does not include additional taxes on higher earners, a disappointment for some Democratic lawmakers.
On the Senate floor, State Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, blasted the decision on taxes.
“The status quo budget leaves us with status quo results,” Fonfara said. “Our policies are a knee on the neck of the Black community and other underserved communities of our state. We can do better, and we must do better.”
Fonfara said that by financing new spending with federal aid rather than taxes, new spending could disappear once federal aid dries up.
Republican lawmakers, including State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, praised the decision not to raise taxes, an issue they had highlighted over the course of budget negotiations.
“We were able to bring attention to some of the proposed taxes we didn’t agree with, and as a consequence, they didn’t find their way into the final budget package,” said Formica, who played a key role in the last bipartisan budget agreement in 2018.
“This budget is a solid bipartisan solution to our state’s needs,” said State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton. “The shift away from tax increases is a win for Connecticut families and exactly who Republicans fight for. It’s a win for every working- and middle-class family.”
Democratic leaders highlighted the bill’s significantly increased spending on social services, nursing homes, and grants for education cost-sharing and PILOT.
Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, called the budget an “extraordinary achievement for the people of our state,” and said that there was much to celebrate within the document.
“I’m very proud of this budget, because it’s a good, moral document dealing with the times we’ve had over the last year and a half,” said State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who co-chairs the Appropriations Committee. “We’ve paid out our pensions, handled the private provider issue for the first time ever, increased rates, taken care of promises on ECS, and dealt with a lot of issues relative to community colleges and state universities and UConn.”
Other Democratic lawmakers saw the budget as a missed opportunity to do more with the billions in federal relief.
“We’re in the heyday right now in terms of money allocated to us in the pandemic,” said State Sen. Dennis Bradley, D-Bridgeport. “This is a huge opportunity to invest in people, and a lot of the budget does do that, but it needs to do more. We should have funded larger teacher salaries, extended school days, and paid for universal pre-k.”
Formica also shared reservations about the looming fiscal cliff created by the decision to finance new spending with one-time federal aid.
“Using any one-time revenues to pay for operations is a practice that most people who do budgets frown upon,” Formica said. “If this were regular times, I think there would be a lot more conversation about the use of federal money leading up to the cliff that’s going to be here at the end of fiscal year 2023. However, coming off the year that we just had, there were other considerations that had to be handled.”