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Gov. Malloy beginning Connecticut budget talks with Democrats, Republicans hold own hearing

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HARTFORD, Connecticut — With several weeks remaining in this year's legislative session, there are still three competing state budget proposals up for debate.

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy reiterated Monday, however, that his two-year, approximately $40 billion plan, should be the framework for closed-door negotiations on a final agreement. The governor and the Democratic legislative leaders met late Monday afternoon to begin the process.

"We believe hard decisions have to be made. We believe we have to be concentrating on building a sustainable budget," Malloy said. "This is not the time to reverse our path or our trajectory."

While Malloy contends the budget he offered in February should be the basis for discussions, state lawmakers — both Democrats and Republicans — are under public pressure to replenish many of the spending cuts the governor made to help cover a projected two-year, approximately $2.5 billion deficit. Malloy's budget reduces funding for social services, libraries, state parks and other popular programs.

A coalition of social service advocates and other groups publicly urged legislators on Monday to stand firm and oppose the proposed reductions.

"These cuts will leave my fiance and I in financial difficulty," said Kimberly Perez, a working mother and full-time student from Hartford who is part of the 34,000 families that could lose state health coverage under Malloy's proposal.

The legislature's Democrat-controlled budget-writing committee recently approved a spending bill that replenished many of those cuts. But the Democrat-controlled revenue committee generated the funds by increasing taxes, including the personal income tax rate on high earners. It also called for imposing the state sales tax on various services such as veterinary, accounting and dry cleaning. Those taxes were the subject a hearing Monday organized by the legislature's minority Republicans, who have offered a budget that also restored many of Malloy's cuts. The GOP, however, relied on givebacks from state employees to help cover the cost, not higher taxes.

At Monday's hearing, a parade of business owners expressed fear that the Democrats' proposed tax increases will drive away customers.

"I want to have a vital business here in Connecticut," said Lisa Davenport, an interior designer in Durham. "Connecticut no longer appears to be business friendly."

Malloy has said several times that he does not support increasing taxes. However, he would not pledge Monday to veto the Democrats' plan, saying that would be seen as "a little incendiary."

But he made it clear he has no use for the Republicans' plan, which he has criticized for relying on what he called unrealistic concessions from organized labor.

"I think they put out an unbelievably bogus budget, unbelievably bogus, false budget," said Malloy, who told reporters he did not plan to include Republicans in the first negotiating session. "I think some of you cut them a little bit of slack. I don't."

This year's legislative session is scheduled to adjourn on June 3.

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