- Associated Press - Friday, May 13, 2016

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - With only Democratic votes, Connecticut lawmakers on Friday passed a $19.7 billion Democratic budget that attempts to fix a projected $960 million deficit, but Republicans questioned whether the plan would solve the state’s continued financial woes.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, and a succession of her GOP colleagues predicted lawmakers will be back to pass a deficit-cutting plan, arguing this proposal doesn’t make the long-lasting budgetary changes needed to finally stop the spate of deficits.

“Are there cuts in it? Yes. Are there some consolidations in it? Yes,” Klarides said. “But when you look at a budget that has a $1 billion deficit just for the next year, and $10 billion for the next six years, eight years, it is not enough once again to use this approach to budgeting.”

Connecticut’s red ink is blamed partly on lackluster or falling state revenues since the recession, including income tax payments from the state’s wealthiest taxpayers.

Klarides said the Democratic budget, an agreement reached between the majority Democratic legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, fixes only the current problem - the $960 million shortfall in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“And then, within a month, or two months or four months, six months, we’re going to be back here, doing this all over again,” Klarides predicted.

The House of Representatives narrowly passed the bill on a 74-70 vote, with eight Democrats joining the Republicans in opposition, during a special legislative session. It marked the last step in the legislative process. It now moves to Malloy’s desk.

Democrats said the plan makes deep and difficult cuts, more than $820 million, to the second year of the two-year $40 billion budget that was passed last year. Spending reductions are made across state government, from mental health services to state payments to hospitals. Some sparked criticism from minority Republicans, who unsuccessfully tried to replenish some cuts with funds from the public campaign financing account.

The budget represents the first time since 1973 there has been a decrease in spending levels from the previous year and is expected to result in more state employee layoffs, in addition to the 889 pink slips already issued in recent weeks.

Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, noted how the “austere budget” protects the state’s basic needs without borrowing for operating expenses, increasing taxes or using money from the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

“Every time I walk through a room, a chamber, a hallway, even in the bathroom, I’ve had somebody come and talk to me about this budget, and no one here is happy about the cuts,” said Walker, co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee. “But because of revenues we are obligated to do this.”

Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Salisbury, who is retiring from the House, acknowledged there are many things in the budget that people, both Democrats and Republicans, don’t like.

“But we’re faced with trying to solve a problem,” she said. “There’s no way to solve this in a pleasant way.”

Willis took issue with GOP claims that the Democratic-controlled legislature is to blame for the current crisis, for “destroying business” with recent tax increases and other policies and for making the state a place that people and businesses want to flee.

She noted how Connecticut still boasts one of the highest qualities of life in the country, a long life expectancy and good schools, urging her colleagues to stop “beating up” on the state.

“Who the heck would want to move here if they heard it’s the worst place in the world to live? And that’s the picture that people are trying to paint,” she said. “You know what? It’s not.”

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This story has been corrected to show the budget figure is $19.7 billion, not $17.9 billion.

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