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How Will Connecticut Spend Its Remaining ARPA Funds?

The state estimates it will have between $300 and $400 million of American Rescue Plan Act funding still available for use. The problem will be figuring out how to prioritize which programs get money.

In some ways, Connecticut's budget situation entering the final days of the legislative session is fairly simple.

Democratic leaders have chosen not to reopen the $51-billion biennium budget lawmakers adopted last year, rendering moot Gov. Ned Lamont's spending proposal from February. For the most part, additional money legislators hope to spend will come from a single pool — remaining federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act, which must be spent by the end of the year.

It's not yet clear exactly how much ARPA money Connecticut has available, but top Democrats, who set the legislature's agenda, believe the total will fall between $300 and $400 million. The question for lawmakers — maybe the most important one left this session — will be how to spend it.

Over the past week, Speaker of the House Matt Ritter, D- Hartford, has offered a series of suggestions: more money for higher education; for nonprofit providers; for municipal aid. At times, he has mentioned other, more specific targets, such as homelessness programs or mental health services.

Naturally, various constituencies have lobbied for a share of the funds. Both the University of Connecticut and the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system have said they need more money to avoid deep cuts, and on Wednesday hundreds of nonprofit employees, clients and advocates swarmed the capitol to make their case.

"They brought a clear message to the legislature and the governor about the desperate need for funding to pay for human services," Gian-Carl Casa, president of CT Community Nonprofit Alliance said Thursday. "We were encouraged by what lawmakers said, and it encourages us to continue to bring our message to the capitol until they actually adopt an agreement."

Lawmakers have until the session ends at midnight May 8 to pass any legislation, though Ritter said he expects all major spending proposals to be done by the end of next week.

One thing Ritter has repeatedly made clear: Top lawmakers are not afraid to spend temporary ARPA money on long-term budget priorities. Yes, he has acknowledged, that will create holes for legislators to fill in future years, but he views that as a question for another time.

"We'll be back here next year having these debates, but you've just got to take every budget year, every session year-by-year and see what happens," Ritter said Tuesday. "You've got to look at the hand you're dealt, and you've got to adjust the best you can every year."

Ritter said lawmakers' plans are unlikely to change when they receive an updated revenue report next week. Any surplus would be set aside for next year, when it might help mitigate the loss of ARPA funds, he said.

At a news conference Thursday in which they offered up their own budget proposal, House Republicans posed their own list of possible uses for APRA money: more money for nonprofits and higher education; reinforcement for the state's unemployment compensation fund; and additional investments in child care.

House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R- North Branford, said Republicans ultimately had similar priorities as Democrats when it came to ARPA funds, but said the federal money should be used to supplement a balanced budget, not to plug holes.

"Let's adjust the budget first, which is the fiscally prudent thing to do," he said. "And then let's spend the ARPA money second."

Rep. Tammy Nuccio, R- Tolland, went further, saying ARPA money should be spent specifically on initiatives with a "direct link" to COVID, not on programs that will continue after the federal funds are gone.

Asked about Nuccio's comment, Ritter was dismissive, noting that Republicans voted for last year's budget, which included ARPA money for initiatives not linked directly to COVID, and have often supported wider use of those funds.

"You've got to to be fair," Ritter said. "You can't say something when you voted for it the other way."

Ritter said he and other top Democrats will look at Republican budget proposals with an open mind and wouldn't rule out reopening the budget if they saw good reason to do so.

At first glance, though, Ritter and House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D- East Hartford, appeared unimpressed with the Republican budget, which added additional funds for special education and child care, paid for in part by cutting Medicaid coverage for undocumented immigrants.

"Politically, that works for them," Rojas said. "Ethically and as a human, these are individuals who need health care."

In an email Thursday, Lamont budget spokesperson Chris Collibee said the governor appreciates the Republicans' proposal, but noted that the legislature plans to maintain the budget adopted last year, without revision.

"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," he said.

(c)2024 The Register Citizen, Torrington, Conn. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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