Christine Stuart photo
Rep. John Geragosian (Christine Stuart photo)

The House worked most of Friday afternoon on a package of budget cuts intended to reduce this fiscal year’s $1 billion budget deficit.

The package that passed 96 to 34 Friday reduces the deficit by about $154 million.

Republicans said it wasn’t enough and the Democratic majority said it was a package both the majority party and Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell could agree on.

The House voted along party lines 96 to 34 in favor of the package. The Senate also approved the package 23 to 12 along party lines earlier Friday morning.

Rep. John Geragosian, D-New Britain, said there were some other cuts Democrats would have liked to include in the package, but the $154 million was what Rell and the majority party could agree on.

“We’re $154 million better off today than we were yesterday,” he said.

However, not everyone share his sentiment.

“It didn’t go far enough,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said. “It didn’t go far enough on the fund sweeps and it didn’t take any of the contingency funds.”

“It’s like giving a starving person a salad,” Rep. Pam Sawyer, R-Bolton, said. “It only solves a small sliver of the problem.”

Republicans introduced amendments to force the Senate Democratic caucus to give back about $900,000 in contingency funds.

Derek Slap, spokesman for Sen. President Donald Williams, said Friday that the $900,000 balance will be returned at the end of the year.

“The balance already goes back to the general fund and House Republicans know that,” Slap said. In a phone interview Friday he said he doesn’t believe there are any plans to spend that money before the end of the year.

Rell has already returned her entire $2 million contingency fund to the state.

Both Rell and the majority party’s legislative leaders in the House and the Senate receive $2 million a each at the beginning of the fiscal year to spend on mostly local projects. Former Speaker of the House James Amann had spent almost all of the $2 million before he handed the office over to Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, but Williams has a balance of about $900,000 left in the account.

In addition to the contingency portion, Cafero said the Republicans took a leap of faith by voting for the February deficit mitigation plan because it include $220 million in off-budget accounts the Democratic majority promised it would find.
In the end Geragosian said they were only able to find about $110 million because some of the money, which was there on paper had already been spent and some funds were restricted.

“We took a tremendous leap of faith and they made a mocker of us,” Cafero said. He said by voting against the bill his party was calling attention to the majority party’s math mistake.

The budget deficit in fiscal years 2010 and 2011 is estimated at about $8.7 billion.