By DANIELA ALTIMARI, email@example.com
The Hartford Courant
9:12 PM EST, December 18, 2012
Lawmakers are set to vote today on a plan to close a state budget deficit by scrapping longevity bonuses for nonunion state workers in favor of a new compensation formula and cutting payments to hospitals, among other measures.
Before they take action on the budget, however, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and legislators will hold a short memorial service in honor of the victims of the Newtown school attack.
Legislative leaders declined Tuesday to discuss the specifics of the budget deal, which was hammered out in a series of meetings last week. It follows a series of emergency cuts ordered by Malloy last month to close a gap that his administration estimates at $365 million.
The agreement also includes a restructuring of business tax credits and a plan to aggressively crack down on income tax fraud, sources said. The proposal preserves aid to municipalities and provides for a cost-of-living increase to private, nonprofit social service providers.
The state House and Senate will convene at 4:30 Wednesday afternoon to allow Malloy and other lawmakers time to attend funerals earlier in the day for the victims of last week's school shooting in Newtown. Members of the clergy as well as leaders of both chambers, Malloy and the Newtown delegation will speak at the memorial service.
In addition to the budget, lawmakers are expected to take up one additional item: a measure that would exempt Sandy Hook Elementary School from complying with a state law requiring schools to remain in session for at least 180 days.
Legislators from both sides of the aisle had informally agreed not to negotiate the budget deal in public. "The discussions were bipartisan,'' said incoming House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden. "All four caucuses contributed equally to the discussion and, in the end, it appears as though we've come up with a package that will generate support from all four caucuses."
House Republican Leader Larry Cafero said the agreement was reached through "a lot of hard work and compromise."
"It was a bipartisan effort that involves tough choices that needed to be made,'' Cafero said. "Our options were few, yet I believe we were finally able to come together and make the best decisions for the people of Connecticut."
The elimination of longevity payments is something Republicans have been advocating for many years. Although the agreement cuts the bonuses, which are next due to be awarded in April, it creates a new formula to compensate those nonunionized workers who had been receiving them. Despite that, the plan will still save the state money, said those who know the details.
The deal also includes more than $110 million in cuts to the state's hospitals for uncompensated care. Part of the cost of treating those without insurance is reimbursed by the federal government.
Jennifer Jackson, president and CEO of the Connecticut Hospital Association, said those cuts will hurt.
"It is our expectation that hospitals will do all they can to preserve services and jobs, but cuts of this magnitude cannot be absorbed simply through more budget tightening such as delayed investment in equipment and technology,'' she wrote on the group's website. "They will result in lost jobs and elimination of critical community programs and services."
The proposal also trims mental health services, sources said. That proposal raised concerns among some lawmakers in the aftermath of Friday's shooting.
"Many of us questioned that,'' Sen. Terry Gerratana, co-chairwoman of the legislature's public health committee, said. "If Friday hadn't happened, we probably would not have. But obviously we're extremely sensitive about what happened in our state."
Gerratana said it is her understanding that the commissioner of the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Service has deemed the cuts "absorbable.''
Gerratana and other officials said the budget agreement might be subject to some last minute tinkering prior to the special session. The document crafted last week is "a snapshot in time,'' she said. [Today] I will see what the picture will look like in its final form and there may be some changes."
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