By DANIELA ALTIMARI, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant
10:29 PM EST, December 19, 2012
Connecticut lawmakers on Wednesday approved a measure that nearly eliminates the state's $365 million deficit by cutting funding for hospitals and education, among a myriad of other programs.
The proposal reduced state spending in the current fiscal year by $252.3 million, and comes on the heels of about $108 million in cuts made by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy last month.
"There isn't much joy to be had when we embark on this kind of work,'' said state Sen. Andrew Roraback, a Republican from Goshen who did not seek re-election. "The only solace that I think any of us can take from the absence of joy... is the realization that the pain that we endure now will lay the foundation for a happier tomorrow, and absent us feeling this pain, an even greater pain would await our state."
Lawmakers were called into a special session to deal with the deficit. The House of Representatives moved swiftly to approve the measure; it cleared the chamber on a vote of 140-3.
In the Senate, debate was more vigorous, but it ultimately passed, 31-3.
Several senators expressed concern over cuts to hospitals, which total close to $90 million. State officials say some of those cuts will be offset by increases in federal reimbursements, but the Connecticut Hospital Association said the reductions will result in job losses and service reductions.
The proposal also makes the state's film tax credits more restrictive and changes the compensation formula for nonunion state workers by ending longevity bonuses and incorporating that income into a new compensation formula.
House Republican Leader Larry Cafero, who was part of the team of legislative leaders negotiating the deal, said lawmakers were keenly aware of the impact of their work.
"Every line item in a budget has an effect on a human being... maybe someone we represent, maybe someone we don't," Cafero said, "but every single person that is affected... lives in the state, our state."
The budget deal does include a modest cost-of-living increase for nonprofit social service providers, who have not had a raise in four years. Brendan Sharkey, a Democrat from Hamden and the incoming House Speaker, said that's something Democrats pushed hard for.
"It was one of those things that we really just felt we had to hold on to,'' Sharkey said. "Those are people who are doing heroic work out in the field and they were the ones we really felt in particular we needed to protect, particularly in light of what has happened over the course of the last week."
The budget debate came after a brief ceremony honoring the victims of last week's school shooting in Newtown. Cafero said the spirit of togetherness that pervades in Newtown hung over the budget negotiations.
"It was the spirit of Sandy Hook that was in that room," Cafero said. "When we work together... when we respect each others ideas… when the number one thing isn't party or politics or power but the people we represent, we do good things."
Senate President Pro Tem Don Williams said the spirit of bipartisan cooperation will continue. The state faces a budget deficit for the next fiscal year that is projected to top $1 billion.
"Going forward, I believe this process and this model does provide a pathway to a better Connecticut,'' Williams said. "We know that we will not be able to have bipartisan agreement on every issue that comes before us… but I think that this model of sitting down and talking with each other… is extremely valuable."
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