HARTFORD — The State House of Representatives signed off and voted 139-12 on a $51.1 billion two-year spending plan early Tuesday morning, but not before opposition to a proposed waste disposal fee nearly derailed budget talks.
All 98 Democrats voted for the measure with 41 of 53 Republicans voting in the affirmative.
The plan – which was okayed at 1:43 a.m. Tuesday after nearly three hours of discussion – includes the largest income tax cut in the state’s history. The bill, which has the full support of Gov. Ned Lamont, reduces the state income tax by lowering the 5.0% rate to 4.5% and the 3.0% rate to 2.0% for the Fiscal Year 2024. Eligibility will be capped at $150,000 for single filers and $300,000 for those filing jointly.
The House’s budget approval almost didn’t happen when many on the Republican side of the aisle objected to a proposal by Lamont for a $5 per-ton fee on municipal waste shipped out of state. The governor said the idea was to create a revenue stream for waste management solutions.
In the end, legislators agreed to scrap the controversial waste fee proposal.
The State Senate is expected Tuesday to discuss and vote on the state budget. Officials said they expect the Senate to also approve the spending plan. Legislators will meet again Wednesday – with an 11:59 p.m. drop-dead deadline – to finish up discussing other bills and measures that might not have been talked about earlier in the week by the State House and Senate. Then, the budget will head to the Office of the Governor where Lamont said he’d sign it.
Budget highlights include more funding for education – both higher education and K-12 – as well as a 2.5% cost of living increase in Fiscal Year 2024 to non-profit providers; deposits of $3.3 billion into a Rainy Day Fund; and steep cuts to Shore Line East.
The governor and legislators from both sides lauded the income tax cut as “historic.”
“This is an historic budget,” said Maria Horn, D-Salisbury and chair of the House Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee during a Monday press briefing outside of the House Chambers. “It’s got the largest personal income tax rate in history, you know, over the biennium. There are also about $5 million in tax cuts that are returning hundreds of dollars to retirees, families, workers, and businesses across the state. I think that’s a really big accomplishment. And, we are balanced. We are $14 million under the cap for [Fiscal] Year 24 and about $2.2 million under the cap for Year 25.”
House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, voted for the plan and told reporters that he was “very pleased that a lot of the tax initiatives that House Republicans wanted are still in the budget.” Earlier Monday, however, Candelora told CT Examiner that he was leaning toward voting against the budget because “it’s disappointing to see a lot of provisions being tacked on to this budget that makes it pretty unpalatable.”
Candelora said: “There are provisions in there like the one dealing with landlords and tenants that now favor the tenants. We negotiated the budget and these items are now put into the budget. More importantly, we had negotiated language that everyone had agreed upon as these are items that Republicans fully negotiated with the Democrats.” In the end, the landlord-tenant provision was dropped from the House plan.
During a discussion on finalizing the House budget late Monday, Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, the ranking member of the Finance, Revenue & Bonding Committee, said she would have supported “more aggressive tax relief for our residents” but said she was voting for the spending plan.
“No document is perfect, but some tax relief is better than none. Any tax relief, though, must be sustainable,” Cheeseman said. “The best thing that came out of this revenue package is that it has no gimmicks.”
Lamont, who didn’t make an appearance at the Capitol on Monday to discuss the budget, did issue a statement on the plan.
“At the beginning of the legislative session, I promised that this budget would build growth and opportunity for all of Connecticut, and this agreement does just that,” the governor said in a statement.
Office of Policy and Management Secretary Jeffrey Beckham also released a statement saying that “the broad-based middle-class tax relief included in this budget agreement is the direct result of the fiscal guardrails that have transformed our fiscal outlook over the last five years and that were extended earlier this session unanimously.”
The budget includes $135 million more in higher education funding than the governor proposed over the biennium for state colleges and universities.
In total, the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) will receive $443.6 million in 2024 and nearly $400 million in 2025. CSCU had received about $454 million in 2023.
The budget funds the University of Connecticut with $259.8 million in 2024 and $250.4 million in 2025. UConn received $245.9 million in 2023.
And, the budget funds UConn Health with about $198 million in 2024 and $176.4 million in 2025. It was allocated about $206 million in 2023.
Spokespeople for both the CSCU system and UConn said late Monday it was too soon to comment on the budget.
The 832-page budget plan also provides for more funding for K-12 education.
The budget provides $25 million in additional special education funding in FY24 and FY25. It also allocates $48 million in FY24 and $96 million in FY25 to continue the Educational Cost Sharing formula phase-in.
The budget also includes steep cuts to Shore Line East funding.
The budget provides for rail funding of $232.3 million in FY24 and $284.2 million in FY25. That money will fund the New Haven line [including branch lines] at 86 percent of pre-pandemic usage in FY24 and 100 percent service levels in FY25; it will support service levels of 44 percent of pre-pandemic service in both FY24 and FY25 for Shore Line East, compared to 30 percent current usage. And, it will support service levels of 100 percent for the Hartford line in both fiscal years. Officials have said Shore Line East has the highest per-rider subsidies of the three train lines.
Prior to the vote to sign off on the budget late Monday, Rachel Chaleski, R-Danbury, made an impassioned plea to fund a charter school in Danbury, the city she represents.
Chaleski noted that there is a charter in place for the school but that the funding had been pulled from the budget.
“Here we go again, Danbury is left out again while other charter schools are left in the process,” Chaleski said. “The price doesn’t go up to educate these students. We love to toss the word equity around when it’s convenient. Well, this is an equity issue. Danbury is the 7th largest city (in the state) and we don’t have a charter school.”
Chaleski continued: “Danbury can open up a charter school tomorrow if we were given the green light. We are only asking for $250,000 in the first year and $1.3 million in the second year. I’m asking and begging, please put politics aside and show with your actions that you speak for our children and families.”
Despite similar pleas from her Republican colleagues, the measure failed 81-69 with one abstention late Monday.
While the budget – on the House side – had bipartisan support, not everyone was pleased with it.
Jay Case, R-Winchester, voted against the budget.
“This session started out real bipartisan and there are some good in this budget,” Case said during the budget discussions. “But, trying to fiddle through 800 pages of an implementer; I just can’t get there.”
And, Secure Democracy USA Director of Advocacy Evan Preston, in a press release, had qualms with the funding allocated for a new early voting policy in the state.
“Connecticut voters deserve free, fair, and accessible elections that are fully funded,” Preston said in the release. “Unfortunately, the current state budget stops short of providing all the necessary resources for a local election official to run smooth and accessible elections.”
Secure Democracy USA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit that says it works to build confidence in elections and improve voter access.
The budget allocates about $1.3 million for the Office of the Secretary of the State and about $1.8 million for municipalities to help implement the early voting policy.
Other budget highlights include the following:
- Expands debt-free community college with $8.5 million allocated in FY24 and $13.5 million allocated in FY25.
- Increases the Earned Income Tax Credit from 30.5% to 40% of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit; 211,000 filers will benefit from the increase
- Provides $810 million over the biennium in capital support toward housing development and housing financial assistance.
- Provides $17.4 million to the state’s Tourism Fund in FY24 and $16.1 million to the fund in FY25.
- Provides nearly $35 million over the biennium for the Connecticut State Police wage agreements to recruit and retain state troopers.
- Allocates $9.1 million in FY24 and $9.4 million in FY25 to expand bus service to support workforce transportation.
- Provides funding to striking group home employees – roughly a 4.5% pay increase in FY24.
- Provides $525,000 in FY24 and $575,000 in FY25 for the Connecticut Work Zone Safety Awareness Program.
- Allocates $3.5 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in FY24 and $2.6 million in FY25 to support theaters.
- Provides an additional $206.6 million over the biennium to strengthen private providers.
- Adds $21.1 million over the biennium to address Department of Developmental Services waiting lists for residential programs.
- Adds $2.5 million over the biennium to enhance elderly nutrition and Meals on Wheels.
- Freezes scheduled increases for the diesel tax at 49.2 cents for one year.