- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 18, 2017

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut legislative leaders announced Wednesday they’ve reached a tentative agreement on most major parts of a new, bipartisan state budget deal, moving closer to possibly ending an impasse that has dragged on for months.

While the General Assembly’s top Democratic and Republican lawmakers said some minor issues still need to be resolved and the plan must be reviewed by rank-and-file members and the governor, they’re hopeful Connecticut could finally have a budget soon.

“We are in a very good place and we’re confident that we can come to a budget document to be voted on in the near future,” said Democratic House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, surrounded by fellow Democratic and Republican legislative leaders. A vote could come as soon as next week, but a date remains unclear.

The state of Connecticut has been operating without a two-year tax-and-spending plan since June 30, requiring the governor to run the state using his limited executive spending authority. The situation has forced cuts to social services and school districts, and caused frustration among city and town officials grappling with how to balance their own budgets without knowing how much state aid to expect.

Lawmakers have been at odds over how to balance a roughly $40 billion two-year budget that’s projected to be $3.5 billion in deficit.

A group of Medicaid advocates, including one dressed as the grim reaper, were on hand Wednesday demanding lawmakers not rely on deep cuts to Medicaid programs that serve the needy and elderly. Instead, they want wealthy residents to pay a higher income tax rate.

“Don’t kill people while balancing your budget. It’s not just dollars. It’s whether somebody can call an ambulance. It’s whether somebody can get the medication that keeps them alive,” said Elaine Kolb of West Haven, who is 68 and uses a wheel chair because of a spinal cord injury.

Wednesday’s tentative deal was crafted behind closed doors over the past two weeks by the legislative leaders, without Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. He’s expected to be briefed Friday on the plan by the Democratic leaders.

Malloy appeared skeptical that lawmakers had actually reached a deal, questioning whether the budget plan is balanced and if it includes things he might find objectionable, such as using short-term revenue to cover ongoing state expenses.

“I don’t think there’s any one thing that would cause me to veto a budget, but probably an accumulation of things,” he said.

Malloy previously rejected a GOP-crafted budget that passed the General Assembly with Republican and a handful of Democratic votes. Among other things, Malloy opposed $321 million in savings from proposed changes to state employee pension plans, saying they’d be illegal. The GOP disagreed but still dropped the idea during the bipartisan talks.

The leaders said they’re seeking to secure at least 101 votes in the House and 24 in the Senate in case they need to override a gubernatorial veto. But they hope to avoid that scenario, given the need to finalize a budget as soon as possible.

“This is a budget in the end that I hope that he will sign and it won’t be adversarial with him,” Democratic Senate President Martin Looney said, referring to Malloy.

The leaders revealed few details of their plan to reporters, saying they first want to run it by their rank-and-file members.

“This is not a dictatorship, at least not on this side of the second floor,” said Republican House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, in a reference to Malloy, whose office is down the hall from where lawmakers have been meeting.

Rank-and-file Democratic and Republican House members are scheduled to be briefed Thursday on the tentative agreement, while Senate Democrats and Republicans will learn the details on Monday. The leaders suggested they’ve made some potentially unpopular decisions. For example, they did not reveal any details about possible tax increases.

Rank-and-file members likely will embrace how the tentative plan doesn’t require cities and towns to pick up the cost of teacher pensions, an unpopular idea proposed by Malloy. Joe DeLong, president of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said city and town leaders are “encouraged” by the news.

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