Republicans propose more money for schools, but cuts to immigrant health care

GOP leaders said it’s necessary because tax revenues are dropping. But the last-minute proposal received a lukewarm response from Democrats, including Gov. Ned Lamont.

John Craven

Apr 25, 2024, 10:39 PM

Updated 23 days ago


With only 13 days left in the 2024 General Assembly session, House Republicans are proposing a new state budget. The $26 billion plan calls for a massive increase in school funding, but also controversial cuts in prison inmate programs and health care for undocumented kids.
GOP leaders said it’s necessary because tax revenues are dropping. But the last-minute proposal received a lukewarm response from Democrats, including Gov. Ned Lamont.
The GOP budget spends almost $300 million more on schools – including underfunded special education programs, as well as magnet and charter schools. Ambulance providers would also get $5 million in additional reimbursements, and $3.6 million would go to implement Early Voting.
It accomplishes all that while staying below the state’s strict spending caps, known as “fiscal guardrails.”
But to make the math work, Republicans are also calling for deep cuts. Most are non-starters for majority Democrats.
That includes dropping 11,000 undocumented children from HUSKY Medicaid. Currently, kids 12 and under qualify. In July, the age limit rises to 15. GOP lawmakers said the state just can’t afford it.
“The legislation that was passed had initially said that it was going to cost about $7 million for free health care,” said state Rep. Tammy Nuccio (R-Tolland). “That number is actually coming in closer to $50 million.”
Republicans estimate the move would save $45 million next year, but doctors warn that it could backfire if more undocumented immigrants show up at emergency rooms.
“One of the economic analyses shows that insurance saves about $2,800 per insured child per year,” said Dr. Leonela Villegas, a pediatrician at Connecticut Children’s Hospital in Hartford. “Having health care is a fundamental right. Secondly, these are the most vulnerable populations in our community.”
The GOP plan also cancels an $8 million expansion of HUSKY C eligibility for seniors and disabled patients, saves $26 million from unfilled state jobs, and cuts $8.5 million to arts and tourism groups. It would rescind free calls from prison and other programs for inmates, saving the state $5.7 million next year.
Also on the chopping block? More than half a million dollars for technology upgrades to implement Connecticut’s new Clean Slate Law, which has been delayed several times. Republicans also proposed eliminating the state Commission on Women, Children, Seniors Equity and Opportunity, saving more than $1 million.
GOP leaders said they made the last-minute proposal because Democrats didn’t offer a budget at all, opting to stick with the existing two year spending plan despite dropping tax revenues.
“Somebody in this building has to be a grown-up.” said state Rep. Holly Cheeseman (R-East Lyme), the top Republican on the Legislature’s tax-writing committee. “And if it has to be our caucus, then so be it.”
Democratic leaders are planning to use up to $400 million in pandemic relief money from Washington, which must be spent by the end of this year, to shore up public colleges, local schools and nonprofits. Republicans warned that using one-time money for ongoing expenses could return Connecticut to deficits next year.
“If we don’t do something today, we are putting the ‘fiscal guardrails’ in jeopardy, and our budget in jeopardy moving forward,” said state Rep. Vin Candelora (R-North Branford), the Connecticut House Minority Leader. “Putting your head in the sand and doing nothing and spending the last tranche of federal money that we have is not good fiscal policy.”
Democratic leaders said they’re open to discussions with their GOP counterparts, but they said Medicaid cuts are off the table.
“Politically, that works for them,” said state Rep. Jason Rojas (D-East Hartford), the House Majority Leader. “I think, ethically – and as a human – these are individuals who need health care. And all of us will pay for it one way or another.”
House Speaker Matt Ritter said re-opening the budget so late in the session would be “difficult."
“We’ll take a look at it,” he said. “If they have good ideas, we will always look at them.”
The Lamont administration said it “appreciated” the effort, but brushed off the proposal.
“While we may not agree with all of the adjustments that House Republicans have proposed, the legislature has signaled that it will maintain the adopted budget for FY 2025 without revision,” said Chris Collibee, a spokesman for Lamont’s budget office. “To that end, we are working with legislative leadership to address resources for priorities in the coming year while maintaining adherence to the Governor’s commitment to an honestly balanced budget.”
Ritter predicted lawmakers will vote on spending revisions by the end of next week. If no deal is reached, the existing budget stays in place, which could lead to tuition increases at public colleges.

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