(Updated 5:14 p.m.) It was no surprise that most of the 17 bursts of applause Gov. M. Jodi Rell received during her 25-minute budget address came from the Republican side of the aisle.
Most of the Democratic majority was unmoved by the two-year, $38.4 billion budget proposal, which called for the consolidation or elimination of 23 agencies and cut 400 jobs while avoiding tax hikes.
While there was a smattering of applause on both sides of the aisle for regional cooperation, some lawmakers felt Rell’s budget didn’t meet expectations while others thought theirs were exceeded.
“She has an obligation to present a balanced budget,” Rep. Cameron Staples, D-New Haven, said. He said the budget she proposed today is already about $1 billion in the hole for fiscal year 2010. “How do you start a conversation about closing the gap when you don’t agree on about a $1 billion difference?”
Rep. John Geragosian, D-New Britain, said if he had to grade Rell’s performance he would give her an incomplete because she came up with a $6 billion solution to a $9 billion problem.
Senate Democrats said in a press release Wednesday afternoon that while Gov. Rell “deserves credit for making some difficult decisions, we are very concerned that her budget fails to truly put Connecticut’s fiscal house in order. According to the latest budget estimates from the non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis, Gov. Rell’s budget plan leaves a deficit of about $3 billion over three years. We cannot afford to ignore this. We expect that Gov. Rell will submit to the legislature a supplemental proposal to account for the difference. It is critical that we work together to resolve the outstanding deficit and safeguard our future.”
Shortly after Rell’s speech Wednesday, Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, called it “a good start.” But, he said, in the long run “it’s gotta pass the fairness test.” He added that there are some populations that may bear more of the burden than others when the entire budget picture emerges.
“It appears the people who are contributing the most are working families, the elderly, disabled people, and college kids,” Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, said. He said based on Rell’s budget these populations are the ones that will be hit hardest.
“What a difference two years makes,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said, referring to the tax increase Rell proposed in 2006 to fund historic increases in education aid. “When a governor puts forth a budget that’s actually less than the preceding year … it’s an extraordinary budget.”
While it may be extraordinary according to Cafero, the budget document shows that it isn’t actually a decrease in spending. The document says the budget for fiscal year 2009 is $18.4 billion, while Rell’s 2010 budget proposal is about $18.8 billion. That’s an increase of about 2.2 percent. Rell’s budget also calls for a 3.6 percent spending hike from 2010 to 2011 to $19.53 billion.
“She made some tough cuts and she didn’t take this out on any one segment,” Cafero said referring to the placement of the cuts and consolidation measures.
Rell’s proposed budget includes a number of Republican proposals including prohibiting the enactment of state mandates unless two-thirds of the legislature approve it and eliminating and consolidating the state’s commissions on everything from children to gaming.
“Governor Rell’s comprehensive budget has transformed the debate about what kind of government Connecticut needs and helps make our state affordable and economically competitive,” Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy said. “Gov. Rell has acted boldly and gone right to the heart of long-term issues that drive costs and have created an unresponsive government.”
Oddly enough at least one Democrat was content with Rell’s speech. “I thought she did a wonderful job,” Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, said. She said she thinks Rell was right when she said the state has a “bloated bureaucracy.” And of course, Prague was excited about the expansion of elderly nutrition programs.
“I can not find fault with anything she said,” Prague said. She said she has not seen a printed copy of the budget just yet. Prague also said she was worried about state employee layoffs, which is something she would not support.