The new budget unveiled by top Democrats of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee significantly increases spending over the governor’s proposal and restores funding to some of the hardest-hit programs.
"We felt that those things were too important for families not to maintain them," said State Rep. Toni Walker, a Democrat from New Haven.
The headline items like developmental services, mental health, and higher education also saw their funding restored to significantly higher levels than those proposed by Gov. Dannel Malloy.
"For things in mental health, we remembered the commitment that we made after Newtown to the families for mental health and making sure that we try to eliminate those types of tragedies," Walker said.
Overall, the new proposal spends more than $500 million more than Malloy’s spending plan.
When asked whether the new budget requires tax increases, the chairs said it's not for them to decide, deferring to members of the Finance and Bonding Committee.
Critics of the new proposal argue that the Appropriations Committee budget blows through the state’s spending cap, a legal obligation.
"Connecticut families can’t balance their budgets by declaring that they’re moving their expenses off their budget; our legislature shouldn’t be able to do that either," Carol Platt Liebau with the right-leaning Yankee Institute said in a statement.
State Sen. Beth Bye, one of the chairs of the Appropriations Committee who has worked on the budget nonstop since February, argued that the committee has received legal guidance that some expenses could be moved out from under the spending cap in order to boost spending for long-term obligations.
"State employee retirement and other post-employment benefits represent long-term indebtedness" aren’t included in the spending cap and budget proposal, said Bye, a Democrat who represents West Hartford.
Republicans welcomed the new budget proposal, saying they’re ready to work with Democrats to formulate a budget that makes sense for Connecticut. Republicans unveiled their own budget last week that included spending reinstatements while simultaneously cutting overtime for state employees, which would require concessions from employee unions.
State Sen. Rob Kane, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, described an "us vs. them" mentality when it comes to negotiating with the executive branch.
"What we found is kind of that this governor has dismissed the legislature whether Democrat or Republican. It's kind of brought our two parties together because we are an equal body of government and can really come together and collaborate on really a good budget document," he said.
Malloy, when reached for comment earlier in the day, said he hadn’t yet reviewed the new Appropriations Committee budget.