The Connecticut Senate is on the verge of sending Connecticut’s two year budget to Gov. Ned Lamont’s desk for his signature.
“This budget does everything we want to do,” said Sen. Martin Looney, (D – New Haven), the president pro tem of the Senate. He points to larger investments in education, steady municipal aid, and funding for new programs like debt-free community college and to start a Paid Family and Medical Leave program.
"In recent years the budgets have been so constrained with cuts that were necessary, we've been in the position of having to decide which of the programs and services that we would like to help we would have to hurt the most. This year we're not in that crisis mode and we're able to be a little bit more responsive to community needs,” Looney said.
The two year spending and taxing plan amounts to about $43 billion. It includes a new one percent sales tax on prepared meals and beverages served in those establishments, a higher fee for trade in vehicles paid to the state by car dealers, a 10 cent fee for plastic bags, and other new enforcements of the sales tax.
Lamont had proposed a wide scale broadening of the sales tax, removing exemptions worth tens of millions of dollars, but Democrats in control of the General Assembly did not like that idea, instead targeting wealthier residents in specific ways.
There will be a higher tax on homes sold worth over $1 million, and there is a new tax on pass-through entities, the same entities that saw tax breaks under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by Congress.
The budget also includes about $9 million worth of individual appropriations for local programs ranging from youth sports leagues to churches.
"What they put together as a budget, we see no transparency,” said Rep. Vincent Candelora, (R – North Branford), who voted against the budget when it passed the State House late Monday evening. “We have little leagues receiving state dollars with no oversight and we have money being appropriated to a corporation, again with no oversight. So, in both situations, the Democrats are just pushing money off to third parties."
Rep. Matt Ritter, (D – Hartford), defended the spending, saying lower income and urban areas depend on the state stepping in to provide help.
"It's really different in urban areas, so where one might say, oh that's pork, or that bought a vote. No it didn't. It's an investment in folks,” he said.
Another issue that’s been raised in the past 24 hours is a new board designed to oversee philanthropic efforts that supplement state functions like public education. The board is in response to a $100 million gift provided by hedge fund billionaire and Connecticut resident Ray Dalio. The board would have appointments from the legislature and the governor, but it would not be subject to open records laws.
In order to receive the $100 million the state would also have to match it, which Lamont promised, and the state budget allocates.
"I think that's wonderful that they're so into philanthropy that when they offered the money to the governor,” quipped Rep. Themis Klarides, (R – Derby). “If he was leading, should have said, thank you so much I would love to be able to do our part. We can't right now. Can you please give us the money and we'll use it in the best way possible. But he didn't. He offered money that we didn't have, with no freedom of information, no ethics laws, and no oversight."
Democrats say the board is necessary to monitor such programs, which they argue will receive scrutiny from the lawmakers who serve on the board. Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz (D- Berlin) also said the state can’t open up the books of every program the state provides money for, whether it’s a baseball league or a hedge fund donation.
"The dollar amounts are different but because of the dollar amounts you want to change the rules entirely?” Aresimowicz asked. “They're supporting the youth of the state of Connecticut.”