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Conn. Budget Reactions: Democrats Push For More Revenue While Republicans Criticize Pot Legalization

The Connecticut State Capitol Building in Hartford
MaxVT
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Flickr
The Connecticut State Capitol Building in Hartford

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont has received mixed reviews from state lawmakers over his $46 billion two-year state budget proposal. The package includes the legalization of pot and a truck-only highway fee. The budget is balanced by relying on federal aid and the state’s rainy day fund.

Democratic legislative leaders support Lamont’s proposal.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff said it’s a good start.

“We will look at the budget from our perspective and our lens and negotiate with him as far as what is a good product for the people of the state of Connecticut,” Duff said.

Lamont said he wants to make it more affordable to live in the state. However, he has to deal with a projected $4 billion two-year deficit.

Democratic Senator John Fonfara is the co-chair of the Finance Committee. He said more sources of revenue are needed beyond what has been proposed by the governor.

“We often think of taxes immediately as a way to get there, but I think that we can think of more creative ways to do that,” Fonfara said.

Democratic Senator Cathy Osten said there’s not enough money in the budget. She’s the co-chair of the Appropriations Committee. She’d like more money spent on social services.

“We also have an obligation to fund those private nonprofits to continue to support the safety net in Connecticut. They take care of our most vulnerable,” Osten said.

Lamont has ruled out any broad-based new taxes. He wants to leverage more state and local government aid from the federal government and draw down on some of the state’s $3.5 billion rainy day fund.

“Our budget also includes an increase in PILOT funding — payment in lieu of taxes — funding in the out years with 50% coming from cannabis revenue,” Lamont said.

Lamont said the cannabis revenue would depend on lawmakers approving his proposal to legalize and tax the sale of marijuana.

“And importantly my proposed legislation authorizes the automated erasure of criminal records for those with marjuana related drug convictions, and charges,” Lamont said.

Republicans who are in the minority said they are not impressed by the governor’s proposal.

“It’s sort of a mediocre budget that is safe and provides multiple choice options for the Legislature,” said Vincent Candolora, the GOP leader in the House. He takes issue with Lamont’s proposal to legalize and tax marijuana as a new source of state revenue.

“It’s become such a commercialized enterprise, and that’s complicated the debate — not just for Republicans but for Democrats, too. And I think that’s why that proposal has not been able to move forward for the past six years,” Candolora said.

Lamont also wants to raise revenue from state regulation of online sports betting. And he has resurrected a truck-only highway user fee. He said it’s a tractor trailer mileage-based fee that would raise about $90 million a year. And it would only apply to larger heavy weight trucks.

Kevin Kelly is the GOP leader in the Senate. He said he’s concerned that the heavy truck mileage fee would not only affect out-of-state trucks.

“It’s going to affect trucks that start and finish their routes like home heating oil trucks and place that burden and that cost squarely on the middle class kitchen table,” Kelly said.

The Republicans also criticize Lamont for relying on federal aid that has yet to be realized.

Budget negotiations between the governor and the lawmakers are expected to begin in earnest after state income tax returns are received in April.

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.