Rain, sleet, and snow won’t keep state lawmakers away from the state Capitol Wednesday, the first day of the legislative session.
On the first day of session, which will adjourn June 3, lawmakers will be sworn in before deciding on the rules and listening to Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s State of the State address.
In preparation, majority Democrats announced that they will begin tackling the 2009 budget deficit even before Rell gives her budget address in February, while minority Republicans hope to speed budget deliberations and bring more efficiency and transparency to the legislative process.
Speaker-elect Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, said he wants the Appropriations and the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding committees to finish their work two weeks ahead of schedule.
“We want to make the process work as quickly as possible so we have time to get it done,” Donovan said.
The state is facing an estimated $343 million budget deficit for 2009, followed by a more than $6 billion deficit over the next two years.
“This year we have to be focused on dealing with this budget challenge and changing policy where it improves things for folks and doesn’t add to that deficit,” Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said.
Williams said he is telling his caucus tomorrow that “any proposal that costs money, that doesn’t pay for itself, is almost assuredly dead on arrival.”
He said that if the legislature is able to pass a budget before the end of the session on June 3, “it would be a tremendous accomplishment” because even during good budget years the legislature was unable to pass a budget on time.
In an effort to speed up the process, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Southport, said combining the two budget committees into one “Budget Committee” makes sense. The Appropriations Committee creates the spending side of the budget. McKinney said that often times Appropriations offers a bill that doesn’t match the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee’s corresponding proposal to fund it.
In addition to streamlining the two budget committees, Republicans have proposed eliminating the four Select Committees, which under current law cannot transmit legislation directly to the floor of the House or Senate, and consolidating six other committees into three.
“We can’t talk about consolidating state agencies if we don’t consolidate legislative committees,” McKinney said. He said these changes would save the state money because it would require nine fewer full-time staff members and 18 fewer session-only employees.
McKinney said that over the years additional committees were created to make more chairmen, who get paid a higher salary than a rank-and-file legislator.
Republicans also proposed making state government more friendly by allowing the public to testify before elected officials and legislators at public hearings.
McKinney said he also has sent Williams a copy of his ethics proposal, which would permanently create a bipartisan ethics committee to investigate senators for abuse of their office, alleged ethical violations, or misconduct. The committee would be similar to the one that held hearings to decide whether to expel, censure, or reprimand former Sen. Louis DeLuca, who resigned in 2007 before the committee could make a decision.
Williams said he hasn’t reached agreement with McKinney on the language and believes it will be worked out sometime this session.