Democratic budget deal remains uncertain as deadline nears
A final budget agreement between Gov. Ned Lamont and legislative Democrats remained elusive on Thursday, as the General Assembly’s adjournment deadline nears.
The Democratic governor and his top advisors said they are concerned about the level of spending and borrowing that lawmakers desire, noting they’ve been willing to agree to a two-year plan that already includes large-scale investments, thanks in part to the state’s share of federal COVID-19 relief funding.
“The governor has made significant movement in investing in progressive reforms and programs in his most recent counter to the legislature,” said Office of Policy and Management Secretary Melissa McCaw, in a reference to the call by politically progressive Democrats to spend large sums to address long-ranging inequities in Connecticut.
McCaw noted how Lamont is already supporting an additional $250 million in spending in the first year of the two-year budget and an additional $400 million in the second year to provide more funding for education, municipal aid, health care coverage, nursing homes, group homes and other needs highlighted by the Democrats, who control the legislature.
“So this is about a budget that keeps all those progressive investments in, but does need to be balanced, does need to adhere to the principles the governor has laid out in terms of the spending cap,” she said. “And we believe there’s a path to do so with some compromise.”
House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said Democrats have already agreed in the closed-door negotiations to drop many of the contentious tax increase proposals Lamont had opposed that were included in a Democratic tax package and strongly supported by the progressive caucus. That includes a new “consumption tax” and capital gains tax on higher income taxpayers and a tax on digital advertising.
During a morning news conference, Ritter suggested the sticking point was down to one issue concerning municipal aid funding and stressed that Thursday was the last day to reach a deal with Lamont.
“If we don’t have a deal by dinnertime, then we’ll have to go our separate ways. We have timelines we have to meet,” he said. It remained unclear on Thursday night if that was still Ritter’s plan to move ahead with a vote in the House, possibly on Saturday.
Lamont, however, said he won’t be pushed into finalizing an agreement.
“I’d like to think we get there but I will tell you, I’m not going to rush into a bad deal,” he said. “I think we’ve ... done that sometimes in years past. It’s going to be a budget that’s balanced, that we can look people in the eye and say, ‘you know where we’re going to be, not just in two years but years going forward.’ And that’s why this state is going to start growing again.”