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Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, left, and House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, right (Christine Stuart photo )

As improvements to the Legislative Office Building get underway, state lawmakers are sparring over the importance of new signs and marble baseboards when the state is facing a $300 million deficit.

Minority Republicans said that while some of the improvements to the building were approved as far back as 1998, now is not the time to continue the work.

“Stop. Just stop!” House Minority Leader Rep. Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said Wednesday morning. The Democratic Majority called the Republican’s attempt to talk about legislative spending “political” and “highly suspect” with less than three weeks to go before the election.

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Stair sign on the second floor (Christine Stuart photo )

Cafero said the “stairs” sign over the stairs is unnecessary. Also, he said the large “3” on the outside of the parking garage to remind people where they parked, followed by another large “3” less than 22-feet away on the inside of the building, is a little redundant.

He said the state spent $225,000 on new signs for the building. The $200,000 being spent to remove the sub-par marble baseboards installed six years ago also is unnecessary, Cafero said.

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3 on the outside of the parking garage (Christine Stuart photo )

That goes along with $1.7 million spent on printed materials already available on the Internet, Cafero said, adding that he can’t help but wonder why the state spends $289,000 a year on pagers – a virtually obsolete technology.

Democrats weren’t convinced.

“Unfortunately, this is the silly season,” Speaker of the House James Amann, D-Milford, said, responding to the war of words touched off Wednesday by the Republicans.

“It’s not time to score political points on the eve of the election,” Amann said. “They waited until the signs came up to have a problem with it.”

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3 on the inside (Christine Stuart photo )

“Should we be mindful of spending here at the Legislative Office Building? Absolutely,” Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said.

“It’s clearly a case of playing politics and dealing with a very significant crisis in very small, petty ways,” he added.

Republicans lawmakers said they would like to see both Williams and Amann return what’s left of their $4 million contingency fund. As part of the state budget, Amann and Williams each receive $2 million to use at their own discretion. They said Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who also receives a $2 million contingency fund, has not used any of the money in fiscal year 2009.

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Speaker James Amann, left and Senate President Donald Williams, right (Christine Stuart photo )

As minority leaders, legislative Republicans do not receive a contingency fund, but often make requests to the governor for a portion of her $2 million.

According to the Office of Policy and Management, Democratic leaders already have spent more than half of their 2009 contingency funds on 65 local projects, such as the $200,000 it spent to keep the two Hartford Public Library branches open.

“There’s no fingerpointing here,” Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Southport, said, adding that each of the local projects paid for with contingency money is important. However, he said that with the economy deteriorating, this is not the time to be spending that money. Rather, he said that while he’s not blaming the Democrats for using their funds, the legislature must start by looking at itself.

“How can we ask the people of the state of Connecticut to live with less if we as legislators aren’t also willing to live with less,” McKinney said. “It has to start with us. We have to lead by example.”

Democrats said they already are doing that.

“I’m upset that they would waste everybody’s time trying to score political points rather than reaching out to solve the problem,” Williams said. “The Republicans put nothing on the table in terms of big ideas.”

Williams said Democrats are looking at significant budget savings within the Department of Social Services, for which Democrats ordered an audit last month. Williams also suggested looking at the “mishaps at the Department of Transportation that add hundreds of millions of dollars to what we pay for projects out of the taxpayers’ pockets.”

“These are the types of things they are not talking about and that’s the big money where we should focus,” Williams said.

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Leftover piece of black marble in the center of the baseboard (Christine Stuart photo )