Conn. lawmakers under pressure to restore cuts

Conn. lawmakers under pressure to restore Malloy's cuts; some question his no-tax hike stance

Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Whether it's from the hospitals or parents who rely on state health insurance, Connecticut lawmakers are feeling heavy pressure to find the money necessary to restore cuts in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposed budget.

And some of those groups are suggesting the Democratic-controlled General Assembly raise taxes to replenish those reductions, a move that's at odds with the Democratic governor's opposition to higher taxes.

"What else are we going to do? We have to do something. We can't keep cutting food, health care and public education," said Nancy Boone, a project coordinator for the Connecticut Alliance for Basic Human Needs, during a rally this week for the estimated 37,500 parents who will lose their HUSKY A insurance coverage beginning Jan. 1 under Malloy's budget. The governor contends the parents will be able to take advantage of federal subsidies to buy private insurance under the new federal health care law.

Boone's organization is part of a coalition advocating for a higher income tax rate for the state's top income earners and requiring multistate corporations to pay taxes on profits earned in Connecticut, among other revenue changes.

The legislature's two budget committees were scheduled to vote Friday on separate spending and tax plans, in response to the two-year $43.8 billion budget proposal Malloy unveiled in February. Once both plans are approved, as expected, final budget negotiations between legislative leaders and Malloy will begin. They face a June 5 adjournment deadline.

Rep. Patricia Widlitz, D-Guilford, co-chairman of the Finance Revenue and Bonding Committee, said her tax-writing panel is trying hard to "work within the parameters of the governor's proposal" and not raise taxes. She acknowledges, however, there are mixed opinions among House Democrats and it has been a difficult process.

"It's just that we have to strike that balance and it's a tough one given the revenue stream," she said. "When we did raise taxes substantially two years ago, it just hasn't produced the revenue stream. So, I don't think piling more on at this point is going to help the overall economic situation."

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, and other legislative Republicans have contended that the state needs to cut spending rather than consider higher taxes or more borrowing to balance the budget.

Despite what the Finance Committee votes out on Friday, House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said he "would not take revenues off the table" during the final budget talks, predicting "substantial changes" will ultimately be made to Malloy's budget.

"I don't think there's any member of the General Assembly that wants to raise taxes, but faced with the difficult decision of losing important services to their communities, people look at it slightly different," he said.

Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, also believes lawmakers might have to resist the governor and consider raising taxes.

"I think some of us just see raising taxes as one of the things that you can do in particular right now, the thing that would help with the situation," he said. "The governor has a different perspective. I understand that. But from the perspective of those of us who have to deal with this budget, taking options off the table is not the approach."

Holder-Winfield has heard from two hospitals in his district that could lose millions of dollars in state support for uncompensated health care costs. Malloy's budget cuts state aid to hospitals by $208.1 million in the first year and $342.4 million in the second. His administration has argued that uncompensated care costs are expected to decline once the state expands Medicaid and insurance can be purchased through the new health care exchange.

Last week, Malloy discounted claims by hospital administrators that his proposed reductions will lead to deep cuts in jobs, programs and services.

"We've increased funding to hospitals by 242 percent over the last 10 years," he said. "What people in this building and outside this building are saying is, 'raise taxes.' We're not going to."

Rep. Matthew Ritter, R-Hartford, said despite the appearance of a potential standoff over taxes between Malloy and Democratic lawmakers, he believes there's still room and time for compromise.

"We will get together, we will talk about priorities and I have found the administration to be flexible," he said. "I think that there's always a good spirit of cooperation and I'm optimistic about it."

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