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Conn. lawmakers to honor school shooting victims

Susan Haigh, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Connecticut lawmakers plan to honor the victims of the deadly Newtown school shooting when they return to the Capitol on Wednesday to address the state's budget deficit.

The special legislative session is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. with brief remarks about the tragedy from legislative leaders, lawmakers who represent Newtown, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and members of the clergy.

The names of the 20 students and six staff members who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School will be read, and there will be a moment of silence.

Lawmakers on Tuesday night, meanwhile, were finalizing details of a bipartisan plan to cover a projected $365 million deficit in the current $20 billion budget. Malloy, a Democrat, already ordered $170 million in spending cuts, using his executive authority.

Sen. Leonard Fasano, R-North Haven, said he was "very optimistic but still cautious" about the budget talks.

"Things are moving optimistically, and we're continuing to talk and narrow numbers down, coming closer to a meeting of minds," Fasano said. "As we know in this building, nothing is done until it's done."

Lawmakers were tight-lipped about the details of the agreement. However, a large portion of the remaining $195 million, after Malloy's spending cuts are taken into account, is expected to come from a possible $113 million cut over the next six months to hospitals to reimburse health care provided to the uninsured and certain Medicaid expenses. That figure, however, could change before lawmakers vote on Wednesday.

Jennifer Jackson, president and CEO of the Connecticut Hospital Association, said cuts of such a magnitude cannot be absorbed through belt-tightening, such as delayed investments in equipment and technology.

"They will result in lost jobs and elimination of critical community programs and services," she said in a written statement, calling on legislators to reconsider the proposed reductions.

She said the proposed budget cut means the hospitals would be forced to cover 31 percent of the $365 million shortfall while hospital spending comprises only 5 percent of the state budget.

Malloy said earlier this week that a tentative agreement on a framework for a bipartisan deficit-cutting plan had been reached, but he warned that the details could change before the special session opens.

Earlier this month, Malloy offered lawmakers a "roadmap to deficit mitigation," which included a list of state agencies where the administration believed targeted savings can be achieved by the end of the fiscal year, June 30. Malloy has said he does not want to impose new taxes or increase taxes to cover the current fiscal year deficit. It's unclear how many of Malloy's ideas will be part of the final deal.

The new fiscal year, which begins on July 1, is expected to be about $1.2 billion short. Malloy has said he doesn't intend to raise taxes to cover that deficit as well.