- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Democratic legislators said Tuesday they’re meeting with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration daily to come up with a package of last-minute changes to the two-year $40.3 billion state budget that prompted an outcry from some major Connecticut employers.

The two top leaders of the House of Representatives, however, would not reveal specific changes to taxes or spending that may be considered by the General Assembly when lawmakers return for a special legislative session, likely on June 29 and 30.

“Our members and the Democrats in general are hearing the concerns from the public since the budget was announced and it’s our intention to address those concerns,” said House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, following an approximate three-hour private caucus meeting with rank-and-file House Democrats, the majority political party in the General Assembly.

Malloy has not yet signed the budget bill, which takes effect July 1.

Earlier in the day, dozens of human service advocates and families that rely on state services gathered in the state Capitol halls in a show of unity, hoping to discourage legislators from making additional cuts to the state budget that narrowly passed June 3.

“That budget that passed already has $1.6 billion worth of cuts in it,” said Heather Gates, president and CEO of Connecticut Health Resources, which provides mental health services, substance abuse treatment and other programs in central and eastern Connecticut.

“It’s not as if it held the whole human service system harmless,” she said. “It simply restored as much money as possible, which we’re really grateful for. Now going back to cutting the very programs that they restored is really a problem for all providers.”

Gates predicted programs will close if additional cuts in state spending are made.

Malloy, a Democrat, recently proposed a plan to scale back about $224 million of the $1.5 billion in tax increases after major employers voiced strong concerns, with a couple threatening to leave. Business advocacy groups contend the budget worsens the state’s business environment and point out how other states have stepped up efforts to encourage Connecticut firms to move. Florida Gov. Rick Scott is expected to meet with companies later this week.

Republican legislative leaders called on Democrats to scrap the budget and work with the GOP on a new bipartisan package.

“Democrats need to rethink their actions, not continue to meddle with a poor product in secrecy, introducing new revenue sources and proposing changes that may have never even had a public hearing,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven. “We need transparent and open conversation, not more darkness. Darkness only perpetuates the same failed system that produced the current mess of a budget.”

Sharkey said he still believes the budget is historic, dedicating funding to transportation improvements and property tax reform. He said there’s been “a lot of hyperbole” and “a lot misinformation” about the budget, blaming the GOP in part.

Yet House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, acknowledged that state lawmakers now find themselves in a difficult position, feeling pressure from multiple interests.

“The times are dictating that we have to make tough choices and that’s what we ran for office for, to do the best we can for the people we represent and that’s what we’ll do today,” he said. “It’s all about the balancing of interests throughout the state. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do that.”


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