Lawmakers prepare to cast budget ballots

(07/30/03) HARTFORD - The vote on the two-year, $27.2 billion spending and tax package was delayed Wednesday in the House of Representatives as leaders made some last-minute changes in the document. The debate is expected to begin early Wednesday evening with the leaders predicting a vote before midnight.

Legislative leaders spent the day briefing the rank and file members of the House after party caucuses. Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly and the administration reached an agreement early Tuesday.

Negotiators made three significant changes: they restored $12.5 million in cash payments to the poor, restored $7 million to local education and they put $1 million back into the prescription drug plan for senior citizens.

To pay for the restorations the negotiators deferred, for one year, the repeal of the newspaper tax that will raise $15 million. And $10 million will be transferred from the transportation fund to the general fund. The adjustments amount to about $20 million.

Legislative leaders say they expect the budget will be a bipartisan package, but they don't know what the vote count will be. If the budget passes the House, it could be taken up in the state Senate Thursday.

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