- Associated Press - Saturday, June 3, 2017

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - The close partisan makeup of the General Assembly and sharp disagreement over how to solve Connecticut’s budget deficit problems are two big reasons why some major bills remain in limbo, with time quickly running out on this year’s regular legislative session.

While the House of Representatives met Saturday, days before Wednesday’s midnight adjournment, Democratic leaders acknowledged it was still unclear whether certain bills might be called in the final hours. They were still figuring out whether there are enough votes to pass contentious proposals such as highway tolls, a new casino and new rules for investigating police misconduct.

Meanwhile the Democrats, who’ve enjoyed large majorities in the legislature for years, have now resorted to debating hotly contested bills, only to pull them after a couple hours when it’s clear there isn’t enough support. That happened with bills allowing immigrant students without proper legal status to apply for institutional financial aid at state-run colleges and universities and requiring Connecticut to pool its Electoral College votes with other states for the winner of the national popular vote.

“It’s the political reality that Nov. 8 happened and the Senate is now tied, 18-to-18, and in the House we’re 79-to-72,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said. “Occasionally there are big bills that we just can’t move … It’s the reality of the slimming margins.”

A closer look at the issues still in flux:

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STATE BUDGET

Facing a projected $5 billion deficit over the next two fiscal years, Democratic and Republican lawmakers announced last Thursday there’s no chance they can reach a deal on a roughly $40 billion, two-year budget in time for Wednesday’s adjournment. They’re now aiming to have an agreement by June 30, the final day of the legislative session. But that’s also uncertain, given the level of the state’s fiscal crisis and the partisan bad blood that has developed.

“This is probably a more difficult year because, let’s be honest, a lot of the easier stuff to do with the budget has already been done,” acknowledged Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. “So, I can see people are having difficulties in coming to grips with the hard decisions that have to be made.”

Without a budget deal, many issues at the state Capitol are in question, ranging from expanded privatization of state social service programs to financial assistance for thousands of eastern Connecticut homeowners whose foundations are slowly crumbling due to the presence of an iron sulfide.

Additional funding for Hartford, which is on the brink of bankruptcy, also hinges on a final budget deal.

Legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, imposing taxes on sugary drinks and disposable plastic bags, rolling back certain sales tax exemptions, scaling back the local property tax exemption on the income tax and adding a fee to vehicle registrations to help fund state parks may also come up in the upcoming budget negotiations. The proposed Passport to State Parks Program, which has bipartisan support, would allow anyone with a Connecticut registration to enter a state park for free.

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CASINOS

While the Senate recently passed a bill that would allow the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to open a jointly owned casino in East Windsor to compete with a new $950 million casino being built in Springfield, Massachusetts, the bill has stalled in the House of Representatives.

The issue is a complicated one. Some lawmakers want the state to open up the process to other casino operators who might build a facility elsewhere in Connecticut, such as Bridgeport. Others argue the state should charge a state licensing fee to the tribes or whoever might develop a third casino. Suggested fees have ranged anywhere from $25 million to $250 million. The tribes own and operate Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino and predict thousands of jobs are at risk because of the MGM Resorts facility.

Meanwhile, there is discussion of possibly adding slot machines at the state’s pari-mutuel facilities to help them bring in more business to compete with a new casino.

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