With lightning speed, the state Senate voted unanimously Tuesday in special session on budget fixes for the controversial hospital tax and a renters’ rebates for the elderly and disabled.
The Senate voted 34-0 with Republican Sen. Craig Miner of Litchfield and Democrat Ted Kennedy Jr. of Branford absent.
The discussion of the bill lasted less than two minutes, and no Republicans spoke on the measure.
“I think it’s the first time that the vote lasted longer than the deliberations on the floor,’’ said Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano of North Haven.
The bill was immediately sent to the state House of Representatives, which is scheduled to vote Wednesday.
The vote was necessary to make changes in the bipartisan budget bill that was signed into law on Halloween after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy used his line-item veto on changes to the hospital tax. The hospitals are in favor of the changes because they will receive millions of dollars in return under a complicated provision that increases federal funding for Connecticut.
Sen. Cathy Osten, the Democratic co-chairwoman of the legislature’s budget-writing committee, was the only Senate member to speak on the floor. In less than two minutes, she described the 83-page bill as including “minor and technical changes’’ that had agreement from all four caucuses in the House and Senate.
The Senate, which often debates late into the evening, had an earlier start time than usual — 9:30 a.m. The senators finally convened on the floor at about 10:35 a.m. Tuesday. With various other statements on the floor, they adjourned before 11 a.m.
“We want to thank the state Senate for passing legislation that will benefit Connecticut communities, hospitals and the patients they serve,’’ said Jennifer Jackson, chief executive officer of the Connecticut Hospital Association. “We look forward to passage in the House and working with the administration to implement the measure.’’
The hospitals pay a tax of 6 percent on inpatient and outpatient services, raising hundreds of millions of dollars each year. That allows the state to become eligible for additional federal funding under the Medicaid program. Some of the money is sent back to the hospitals and some is used to balance the state’s two-year, $41.3 billion budget.
The hospitals will receive nearly $600 million in supplemental payments during the current fiscal year and nearly $500 million next year, according to a nonpartisan analysis.
Malloy’s chief spokeswoman, Kelly Donnelly, said the new, detailed language on the hospitals was a major improvement over the version that was passed last month.
“The adopted language was fundamentally flawed and violated federal law, and the action by the Senate today makes the law workable,’’ Donnelly said. “It’s important to keep in mind that there are no guarantees” of federal approval
Social Security Tax Cut
The bill also delays the implementation of a tax cut for some Social Security recipients until the 2019 calendar year, instead of 2018. Currently, thousands of elderly citizens pay no Connecticut state income tax on their Social Security income, based on their overall income. Only single filers earning more than $50,000 per year in federal adjusted gross income and couples earning more than $60,000 currently pay state tax on their Social Security.
Under the bill, the tax cut will be expanded as the income thresholds increase to $75,000 per year for single filers and $100,000 for couples.
The bipartisan bill also ensures that the elderly and those totally disabled will receive millions in renters’ rebates over two years. The budget bill last month called for holding municipalities, instead of the governor’s budget office, responsible for issuing the rebates. But Tuesday’s bill switches the responsibility back to the governor’s budget office to ensure that the rebates are paid.
Despite passing the budget last month and the fixes Tuesday, the state still has a projected deficit of $178 million in the current fiscal year. Some Democrats said they should wait until the next legislative session in February to make changes to close the deficit. They noted that state tax receipts from Christmas sales will likely not be tallied until January, making an earlier vote impractical because the state would not have the necessary updates on tax collections.
“We’ll get a better handle on some of the revenue picture after the December and January reports come in,’’ Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff of Norwalk said. “It may be best to wait and see how it goes.’’
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