HARTFORD, Conn. — Minority Republicans in the Connecticut General Assembly on Thursday offered an alternative $18.9 billion state budget that scraps the governor's proposed $55 tax rebate, ends the state's earned income tax credit program for the working poor and doesn't include what the GOP calls Democratic "gimmicks."
It comes as leaders of the legislature's Democratic-controlled budget committees meet behind closed doors with Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget chief to craft a final budget agreement for the fiscal year beginning July 1. They face a May 7 deadline, the final day of this year's legislative session.
"The budget adjustments that Governor Malloy and the Democrats have offered give us more spending, more gimmicks and bigger deficits. In short, they are fiscally irresponsible and unsustainable," said Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, a Republican gubernatorial candidate.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said the GOP plan spends less money than Malloy, the Democrats and the original two-year budget that was approved last year.
"We do it honestly, we do it transparently," said Cafero, adding that the GOP plan also reduces the $2 billion deficit that's projected in future years.
But Democrats appeared unimpressed, making it unlikely that many of the proposals will be included in the final deal that will be presented to the rank-and-file members for a vote.
"I looked at the bottom line and it looks like they're 99.6 or .7 percent close to where the governor's level of spending is," said Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn. "On the face of it, it doesn't appear that there's any material difference between what the Republicans are proposing, in terms of the amount of spending, and what the governor is proposing."
Benjamin Barnes, Malloy's budget chief, accused the Republicans of issuing "a political document that's heavy on rhetoric, but devoid of any actual detail."
"Perhaps most troubling, it includes a $120 million tax increase on Connecticut's working poor by eliminating the EITC, what Ronald Reagan called 'the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress,'" Barnes said, referring to the earned income tax credit.
Cafero pointed out how the Democrats recently wanted to scale back the tax credit because it was too expensive. Instead, the GOP plans call for restoring the sales tax exemption on clothing and footwear valued $50 or less as of July 2014. It also begins phased-in, partial tax exemption for pension income and restores the sales tax exemption eliminated in 2011 on non-prescription drugs.
The GOP proposal also calls for scrapping revenue from keno, a game of chance that has yet to come online.
While not a fan of keno, Williams said the revenue is still in the budget that's being negotiated behind closed doors. There had been calls from legislative leaders — concerned about expanded gambling — to scrap plans for the game and find revenue elsewhere, but it's unclear whether that will happen.