As closed-door state budget negotiations begin this week, top Democratic leaders of the Connecticut General Assembly on Wednesday exhibited solidarity behind their party's proposed state budget, voicing optimism a deal can be reached soon with Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont despite his opposition to key parts of their plan.
While acknowledging there will be compromises, House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said rank-and-file Democrats in the House of Representatives are very supportive of the proposed tax and spending packages that have already cleared the budget committees, as well as a separate plan for spending an historic $2.8 billion in federal COVID-19 relief.
“I’ve been in this legislature for 11 years. I’ve never seen unanimity of support in my life like I saw" (during a recent meeting of the House Democrats),” Ritter said. "That is a rare, rare feat. So the message I think today is, let’s get moving, let’s get those negotiations to wrap up."
He predicted there would be no support among his members for any budget deal that slashed spending and did not include additional revenue for the long-term.
Democrats have proposed two-year $46 billion state spending plan they contend addresses many of the long-standing inequities highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including more money than what Lamont had proposed in his roughly $46 billion for financially struggling nonprofit agencies that provide social services, school districts, workforce development programs, and various racial equity measures.
“The chairs and the members of the committees have done an incredible job of striking a balance between providing stability for our year-to-year needs, while also moving us in the direction of addressing some of the systemic issues that we were painfully reminded of by COVID and certainly by racism that continues to plague our country,” said House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford.
Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, made it clear Wednesday that the Democratic budget proposal, not the plan Lamont proposed in February, will be the “starting point for the negotiations" with the governor.
It's unclear what, if any, involvement the minority Republicans will have in the upcoming talks. While the GOP opposed both the tax and spending bills in committee, there was bipartisan support this week for a separate plan for spending $2.8 billion in federal COVID relief funds.
The major sticking point between Lamont, a former businessman, and the legislative Democrats, especially politically progressive ones, has focused on whether taxes should be raised. Lamont, considered to be a more a fiscal moderate, has warned that higher taxes could stymie the state's recovery from the pandemic.
“We’ve got jobs that are being created. We’ve got companies coming to the state of Connecticut,” Lamont said recently. “I don’t want to do anything to stop that momentum.”
Progressive Democrats, including some who've criticized the governor publicly for his stance, contend the state's tax system needs to be made more fair and that more revenue will be needed for the long-term after federal COVID relief funds dry up. The Democrats' tax bill, which some fiscally moderate Democrats opposed in committee, includes a new “consumption tax” and capital gains tax on higher income taxpayers, as well as a new $600 child tax credit and an increased earned income tax credit against the state's personal income tax for qualified families.
The General Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, is scheduled to adjourn June 9. Ritter has said previously that lawmakers will have a better chance of getting what they want in the final package if a deal is reached soon.