Democrats push ‘COVID relief budget’ up for consideration

covid

“For me, it is a COVID relief budget; a budget that addresses the immediate challenges we face today while investing in a equitable future.”

The Democratic-controlled Appropriations Committee on Thursday put forward a one-year, $24.16 billion spending plan that seeks to address the continuing effects of the pandemic. Eric Lee/Bloomberg

With Connecticut flush with federal COVID-19 relief funds, the Democratic-controlled Appropriations Committee on Thursday advanced a one-year, $24.16 billion spending plan that seeks to address the continuing effects of the pandemic.

The spending proposal, which makes adjustments to the second year of the two-year budget passed last year, cleared the committee on a mostly party-line vote, 35-15. With the package passed on Wednesday, it will become the basis for closed-door talks between the General Assembly and Democratic Governor Ned Lamont, who unveiled his budget proposal in February.

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“For me, this is a COVID relief budget; A budget that meets the immediate challenges we face today while investing in a equitable future,” said Sen. Cathy Osten, a Sprague Democrat and co-chair of the committee.

Both the governor’s budget and the Democratic legislative plan focus heavily on addressing the continuing effects of the pandemic, from increased demand for mental health services among children and adults to the financial challenges faced by child care providers. Huh. But legislative Republicans, the minority party in the General Assembly, criticized the committee’s bill for not providing more money to reduce debt in the Unemployment Trust Fund, which they argue lay on the back of businesses struggling during the pandemic. It is inappropriate to keep

Republicans also expressed concern over Democrats using lump-sum federal money to pay for ongoing expenses, including criminal justice initiatives, and bypassing state caps on spending.

Here are some highlights of the budget bill:

federal funds

Connecticut has about $373 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to use in this year’s budget, Osten said. While the Democratic plan spends money on some initiatives similar to Lamont’s budget, such as $14.4 million in grants for broadband infrastructure and more than $42 million to continue expanded tax credits for low- and middle-income households, this change Does not fund other projects from Lamont’s list.

Democrats’ budget uses $21 million of ARPA money to pay for additional urgent mental health crisis centers and a micro-crisis stability unit; $15 million to expand medical and psychiatric inpatient services at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center; and $2.9 million to provide additional services for domestic violence victims. There is also additional funding for early childhood programs, including $20 million for infant and toddler slots, and funding for school-based health centers, college scholarships, and “temporary aid” for state colleges and universities.

crime and law enforcement

Some Republican legislators on the committee questioned why the Democratic spending plan relied on one-time federal COVID-19 money to fund some anti-crime initiatives, including $2.6 million by state and local police. Efforts to address car theft have been included. Instead it should be included in the regular budget, he argued.

Crime has become a big issue in the 2022 election. Both the General Assembly and the governor are up for re-election in November.

“Is it the view of the people who have put together this budget, the way it has been assembled, that violent crime is not going to increase … requiring continued financial effort on the part of the state of Connecticut?” Craig Minor, R-Litchfield, the top Senate Republican on the committee.

Osten said the state’s Department of Emergency Services and Public Safety thought it was better to use US Rescue Plan funds to address violent crime, additional speed enforcement and other anti-crime efforts “to give them time to look into this.” As for whether it was just a COVID-related issue and when they are addressing the issue it will vanish.”

Contract Standards Board, Other Changes

While much of the Democratic budget reflects the governor’s proposal, there are a few key areas where they diverge. For example, the plan advanced Thursday restores the $454,355 that the General Assembly approved for the State Contract Standards Board last year, enabling the agency to hire five staff members. The committee also includes language that provides budgetary independents to the board, similar to other monitoring agencies such as the Office of State Ethics.

Lamont has called for the creation of a new three-member entity within the state’s Office of Public Auditors, a move the board’s chairman recently warned legislators about “for the board to intervene and take appropriate corrective action.” Will effectively remove real-time remedial statutory authority when there is a breach of Connecticut procurement and contract law.”

Lamont recently said he was open to funding the board.

The budget bill passed Thursday also scuttled the Lamont administration’s plans to centralize the executive branch’s information technology functions into the Department of Administrative Services. Osten said lawmakers want to wait to see how efforts to centralize human resource services work first.

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