Democrats in the Senate and the House called separate press conferences Thursday to tout the successes of the legislative session, while Republicans in the House and the Senate held a joint press conference criticizing the majority Democrats for not adjusting the 2009 budget—an agreement that was reached in unison with Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said by sticking with the $18.4 billion state budget, which increases spending 4 percent, it means the state is “living within our means,” not unlike Connecticut families. Speaker of the House James Amann, D-Milford, said the current budget does not create any new taxes, however, it does include an increase in the state’s petroleum gross receipts tax and it may include the extension of the real estate conveyance tax, if lawmakers call themselves back into special session.
Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said he’s disappointed Rell and Democrat-controlled legislature agreed to stick with last year’s budget and ignore the GOP’s alternative budget proposal that hinged on an early retirement program for about 4,200 state employees.
At the beginning of the legislative session, Republicans and Senate Democrats were tripping over themselves trying to figure out how to give taxpayers back the state’s projected $260 million surplus. Four months later the state is running a more than $67 million deficit in 2008.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Southport, said, the Republican Party was the only party to offer “a balanced alternative budget.”
“Our Democratic colleagues like to talk about living within our means, but talking is not good enough,” he said.
Amann said later in the afternoon that responsible legislating is not about sound bytes. When asked why he wouldn’t allow a one-hour debate on the GOP’s budget proposal, he said, “Why would give them an hour to talk about their ‘do something’ dumb budget?”
“I’m not going to waste the legislature’s time,” Amann said.
But anyone watching the last three days of the legislative session could see there seemed to be a lot of time wasted, including a more than four hour debate on a bill that would make it illegal for passengers in a car to drink an alcoholic beverage.
There was also the now infamous ethics reform bill, which came to an impasse over whether there should be two different standards for public officials and state employees when it comes to pension revocation. Many chalked up the bill’s defeat to the personality differences between the chairs of the General Administration and Elections Committee—Rep. Chris Caruso, D-Bridgeport, and Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford.
Williams and Amann both included the mortgage relief bill as one of the successes of the session. The bill introduced as a response to the subprime crisis, includes new, affordable refinancing programs with flexible credit underwriting to help homeowners, and tightens restrictions on mortgage lenders.
When asked if they were sending a mixed message by approving this bill and reconvening a special session to extend the real estate conveyance tax on all home sellers, including those selling their homes at a loss, both Williams and Amann said they weren’t.
The real estate conveyance tax levied on homeowners selling their homes averages about $2,500 and the revenue from the tax raises about $40 million for cities and towns across the state. By factoring out homeowners selling at a loss, “may have a significant impact on the revenue,” Williams said.
“The conveyance tax is extremely important tax,” Amann said. “The best we can do is give some sort of relief.”