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Conn. Democrats pass deficit plan that leaves $137m in red ink

By Susan Haigh
Associated Press / December 22, 2009

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HARTFORD - Lawmakers passed a Democratic plan yesterday to close the state’s latest budget deficit, even though Governor M. Jodi Rell and her fellow Republicans said it falls far short of what is needed to balance the books.

The proposal by the majority Democrats, approved along mostly party lines, still leaves the state with a $137 million deficit and the governor with the task of deciding how to cover the remaining red ink.

Senator Dan Debicella, ranking Republican on the Legislature’s budget-writing committee, accused the majority Democrats of “punting’’ to Rell the hard decisions about which programs to cut.

“Today we are trapped in ‘Groundhog Day,’ where again we have a bill before us that does not close the full deficit,’’ said Debicella, of Shelton.

Democrats maintain that the governor has not done enough to reduce spending within her agencies, such as cutting middle management. They contend the bulk of the deficit can be blamed on overspending by the administration, not just a decline in tax revenues.

“The governor must live within the means of the biennial budget,’’ said Senate President Donald Williams Jr., Democrat of Brooklyn. “That’s what families around the state of Connecticut are doing.’’

The governor did not say whether she would sign the deficit-cutting plan into law. In a written statement issued after the votes, she said she was “profoundly disappointed’’ and said state taxpayers have a right to be angry with the situation.

“They are faced with a bill for a state government that has become bloated and unaffordable,’’ Rell said. “Instead of paring back on spending, the majority continues to run from their responsibility.’’

Democrats in the General Assembly passed a two-year, $37.6 billion budget without Rell’s signature in September after a monthslong impasse with her. That budget is now about $467 million short.

The figure, however, includes a planned $130 million sales tax reduction that has been scrapped because of falling state revenues.

Rell called lawmakers back to the Capitol last week to vote on her own deficit-cutting plan, but the Democrats ignored the package.

They said it would lead to at least 5,000 private-sector job cuts across the state because of her proposed reductions to hospitals and nonprofit social services agencies. They also balked at Rell’s proposal to reduce state aid to cities and towns.

The Democrats’ plan reduces spending by $12.4 million, according to the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis. It also postpones a planned reduction in the state’s inheritance tax.