New Haven Independent file photo
Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven (New Haven Independent file photo)

It’s now a week past the April 6 deadline majority Democrats in the legislature set for themselves to find $220 million in off-budget accounts, which they plan to use to close this year’s estimated $1 billion budget deficit.

Sen. Toni Harp, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said Monday that she has received a draft report of the recommended cuts, but “it’s not ready for prime time.” She said the leadership of the Appropriations Committee wants the Office of Fiscal Analysis to verify the numbers and expects the draft report to be made public in “a day or two.”

But the reluctance to even release the tardy draft report to the Republicans, Gov. M. Jodi Rell, and the public has some lawmakers upset.

Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said Monday that the report should be ready by now, but it doesn’t surprise him that it’s not.

“This is all a well-thought out calculated ploy to keep information from the Republicans, the Governor, and the Connecticut public,” Miner said.

He said this shell-game Democratic leadership is playing should outrage both Democrats and Republicans because there’s no opportunity for anyone to express an opinion on the recommendations.

Rep. John Geragosian, co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee said last Tuesday that the Appropriations Committee will release the report when it’s ready and the there will be a debate, then the General Assembly will vote on it.

When Democratic lawmakers proposed the off-budget funds sweep during February’s budget mitigation session, they built a March 25 deadline into the statute—a requirement they already have failed to meet.

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Southport, said last Tuesday that it’s dangerous to put numbers in a budget document that “you don’t have any evidence to support.” He said when the February mitigation plan was being debated Republican lawmakers in the Senate had legitimate questions based on their understanding of those accounts.

“The fact that they haven’t been able to keep their promise should give anyone pause,” he said.

He said his biggest fear is that Democrats never found the $220 million and will just use the Rainy Day fund or borrow money to close the 2009 budget gap.

Rell went along with the Democratic proposal to find the money, but never expected them to succeed.

Rell’s budget office predicted last month that lawmakers would come up about $32 million short of their $220 million goal.

Her office said the only way for lawmakers to hit the mark is to illegally raid funds with strict limitations.

Democrats have said the administration hasn’t been cooperative, which has made it hard for them to determine how much money is in some of these accounts.

“We would also note that, although the Governor has declared that capital and other project accounts that have balances from bond funds are inaccessible for transfer, this does not appear to be correct,” Geragosian and Harp wrote in this letter to Democratic leadership. “The State Treasurer has the authority to review inactive bond fund balances and recommend the release of those funds to the General Fund (for debt service reduction under current law). The State Bond Commission can act upon those recommendations and release the funds. This has happened on two occasions in the recent past, in 2005 and 2007.”

Geragosian has said they want to get some of these legal questions answered before they release the report.