Malloy's first state budget OK'd; Fawcett among Democratic 'no' votes
Time and again Tuesday as the clock ticked toward midnight, the Republican House minority knocked their heads against the 99-member wall called the Democratic majority.
After nearly 10 hours of debate, Democrats gave the governor a 83-67 vote to approve a range of tax hikes and erase a looming $3.3 billion deficit.
The governor signed the $40.1-billion budget Wednesday. Now pressure will increase on state employee unions, from which the governor wants $2 billion in concessions and savings over the next two years. Without that piece of his budget, thousands of layoffs and further program cuts could result, he has warned.
"There are no gimmicks in this budget," said House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, in the traditional summing up of the debate just before midnight. "It fully funds our pensions. There's no borrowing, there's no one-time revenue."
Andres Ayala Jr., D-Bridgeport, leader of the city's delegation, said the budget retains state aid, including Educational Cost Sharing money for public schools.
"The reason why I support this budget and the Bridgeport delegation supports the budget in this time that budgets are being cut and hurting cities, is because this doesn't do it," Ayala said in an interview late Tuesday. "This budget delivers that support to our city. It's a natural that we support it."
The House vote came just days before the first round of layoff notices to state employees that Malloy is preparing in case unions balk at givebacks and he is forced to seek $2 billion in savings through job terminations and other tactics.
One by one, Republican House members rose and teed off until, after five hours, they offered a balanced budget that would not raise taxes as the debate moved into the evening.
"I am constantly asked how we can ever consider more of a tax burden on our people," said Rep. DebraLee Hovey, R-Monroe. "Where's the common sense?"
Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said the Democratic budget would be too much of a burden.
"It is hypocritical to tell people we are helping them and on the other hand increasing their fees," Klarides said.
Rep. T.R. Rowe, R-Trumbull, said the seeds of the proposed tax hikes go back to 1991, when lawmakers adopted the personal income tax.
"Here we are 20 years later making the same short-sighted mistakes," Rowe said, calling the House action a "legacy" vote. "We're raising the sales tax, we're raising income tax rates, we're creating new taxes. It's very disappointing. I fear that this is going to be a sad day for Connecticut. It's going to be an unfortunate legacy for the governor and for this Legislature."
Debate on the two-year, $40.1 billion proposal began at about 2 p.m., less than 12 hours after the Senate voted 19-17 to raise taxes by $2.6 billion, including higher income-tax rates and a new 6.35 percent sales tax.
House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, led the opposition. During a 15-minute monologue toward the start of the debate, Cafero said that Connecticut residents are in a tough spot and the wide range of tax hikes will make life that much tougher.
"They just can't afford government anymore," Cafero said. "It's too big. They keep paying and paying and paying." He complained that rather than reducing the current $19.3 billion budget, the Democratic package would spend $19.8 billion in the fiscal year that starts July 1, then $20.3 billion the next year.
"There's a better way," he said, setting up the introduction of the GOP budget proposal, which he called the antithesis of a Democrats' first-year tax hike of $1.8 billion, including increases in fuel taxes.
"Isn't there some compromise between zero and $1.8 billion?" Cafero asked. "What are you doing to us?"
The three Senate Democrats who voted against it after an 11-hour debate included Sen. Gayle S. Slossberg, D-Milford, who said there were several reasons she opposed Democratic leadership and the governor.
"People are struggling as it is," Slossberg said in an interview. "If you can't pay for what you already have, you can't spend more."
She said the state should not increase spending. "It's not right," she said. Slossberg also opposes merging several of the so-called watchdog agencies including the Office of State Ethics.
Slossberg said that new taxes, combined with higher spending, are too much for the state at this time. "Anyone who says you can balance the budget without new taxes isn't telling the truth," she said. "But you can't spend more money and raise taxes at the same time."
Malloy made a rare trip to the usually closed-door Democratic caucus Tuesday afternoon to give them a pep talk.
"This is a momentous moment," Malloy said to a packed caucus room. He warned them that minority Republicans would make attacks during the hours of debate.
"Things will be said that simply are not true," Malloy said, noting that former Gov. M. Jodi Rell left lawmakers facing a $3.5 billion deficit. "This budget represents a lot of very hard decisions having been made. I know not everyone can be as happy as some other people are," Malloy said. "I know that there are issues that I will continue to work with your leadership on."
Throughout the afternoon Republicans attacked the Democratic package as bad medicine for a state that's still faltering in the recession, with a 9.1 percent unemployment rate.
Malloy, in a statement after the vote, said it is now up to his administration to gain the union concessions.
"I remain hopeful that we'll get there," he said. "If we don't, I remain committed to presenting an alternative budget to the General Assembly in the next couple of weeks."