State lawmakers voting on budget with historic spending – and tax cuts
It's going to be a late night in Hartford. Connecticut lawmakers will begin voting on a new state budget that makes big investments in children, climate change, and paying down pension debt – but also includes historic tax cuts.
The Connecticut House of Representatives is expected to approve the tax and spending plan tonight. The state Senate will vote on it Tuesday.
Gov. Lamont says it's the biggest tax cut in state history – even bigger than Gov. John Rowland’s cuts in 1995.
"These are tax cuts that are going to make a difference for you right now,” said Gov. Lamont.
The tax relief affects almost everyone:
- Property tax credit increases to $300, and more people qualify
- One time $250 rebate check for their first three kids. Only applies to individual filers making up to $110,000 or joint filers making up $210,000. The top income earners can claim slightly less
- Expanded Earned Income Tax Credit
- 2,500 tax rebate for a stillborn child
- Car taxes capped at 32.46 mills (1 mill costs $1 per $1,000 of a car’s assessed value). This will cut taxes in about 75 cities and towns.
- o “Gas tax holiday” and free bus rides extended until Dec. 1
- o 6% admissions tax repealed in 2023
Wine and spirits makers
- Farm wineries, cider and mead producers now qualify for sales tax exemption
Lamont pushed back on Republican criticism that most taxpayers won't see relief until next year.
"You're going to get that [car tax] bill on July 2 and you can get that savings virtually that same month,” said Gov. Lamont.
Also, seniors’ pensions, annuities and 401(k) income will no longer be taxed. It’s an attempt to keep retirees like 84-year-old Jerry Roisman from moving south.
"People have tried to attract me [to move] to Florida or South Carolina or a variety of other places,” the West Hartford resident said.
The budget also spends a lot – more than $24 billion.
There’s also pandemic pay for essential workers. The new Connecticut Premium Pay Program will pay between $200 and $1,000 to workers making up $150,000 per year. Workers must submit claims by Oct. 1. But only private sector employees qualify; the Lamont administration is negotiating a separate “Hero Pay” package for state workers on top of new raises they’re about to receive.
Private social services providers will also receive cost-of-living increases.
Other key provisions in the budget
· Free community college expanded from three years to four. Part-time students also now qualify for at least $150 per semester.
· Free menstrual products in some school bathrooms, college campuses, and homeless shelters
· Expands HUSKY Medicaid coverage to undocumented children 12 and under. Right now, the cut-off is 8 years old. Kids must continue to receive benefits until they turn 19, as long as they keep meeting income eligibility
· Creates a new Commission on Community Gun Violence Intervention and Prevention
· 5% raise for judges
· Retailers would be required to check ID for all tobacco purchases
· New pilot program for psychedelic-assisted therapy at Connecticut Mental Health Center
· Requires climate change to be taught in public schools. Right now, it’s an option
· New indoor air quality grants for schools
· State Treasurer could automatically refund people up to $2,500 in unclaimed property without them filing a claim
The budget also includes some head-scratching items, like $2 million to establish non-stop flights to Jamaica.
Lawmakers may also receive their first pay raise in two decades. Members only earn $28,000 per year for an increasingly full-time job. The budget includes money for the raise, but a separate bill would actually implement them. The state attorney general would also get a raise under the legislation, bringing him on par with what judge’s earn.
It's all possible because Connecticut is swimming in cash, due to inflation, a strong stock market, and an infusion of one-time federal relief funds. The latest state surplus is now almost $5 billion, letting lawmakers spend money on priorities while also cutting taxes in an election year.
The surplus also means a $3.5 billion payment to address Connecticut’s staggering debt load.
Republicans proposed even deeper tax cuts, including an across-the-board 1% income tax rate cut that Democrats say is too expensive and may violate federal rules. GOP lawmakers were not at the negotiating table, and say the budget is rushed.
"This is an unacceptable way to run our government -- that we get this package at 4:37 a.m.,” said state Rep. Nicole Klarides-Ditria (R-Seymour).
The new budget also addresses Connecticut’s troubled school construction program, now the focus of a federal grand jury investigation. It tightens the rules surrounding emergency projects, which some school districts say a former budget official used to steer construction contracts to certain bidders, a claim he denies. The budget also restores funds to the State Contracting Standards Board, which has the power to revoke contracts.