Just one week before the end of the legislative session with hundreds of bills and the state budget hanging in the balance things at the state Capitol seem to have grinded to a halt.
The Democratic majority blames the Republican minority for filibustering bills and the Republican minority blames the Democratic majority for refusing to agree to spending cuts in closed-door budget negotiations.
In an effort to break the standoff between the two sides, Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said the Democratic majority plans on running an amendment Thursday which would establish a formal mechanism to forge consensus on budget projections.
The amendment says if the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis and the governor’s Office of Policy and Management can’t reconcile their budget estimates then the state Comptroller shall provide its own estimate of the deficit. It also requires that both the legislature and the governor revise their estimates in an effort to reach consensus.
Williams said the reason Democratic lawmakers and Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell haven’t been able to reach consensus is because they’ve been unable to agree on something as simple as the bottom line. He said “consensus budget forecasting,” which is used in other states according to a policy brief put together by CT Voices for Children, will help legislators reach consensus this year and going forward.
Williams continued to say that Rell’s Feb. 4 budget closed a $6 billion deficit, when the size of the deficit is now $8.7 billion. He said Rell has yet propose an additional $2.7 billion in spending cuts.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said Williams keeps harping on that point “ad nauseam.” He said by introducing that amendment signed by all 24 Democratic Senators, Williams is turning the debate in a different direction.
He said Williams is just avoiding having to make spending cuts and is trying to have the governor do it for him.
Rell’s spokesman Chris Cooper said it helps the Democrats avoid coming up with another budget and asks the governor to do all the heavy lifting. “The bill circumvents the process of consensus,” he said.
It’s also a grab at executive power, Cooper said.
Cafero said it’s not beyond comprehension that things could deteriorate very quickly and in a very public way, if this amendment is called.
Unable to reveal much of what has been said behind closed-doors, Cafero described the budget as a cake. He said when lawmakers on either side of the aisle bring the eggs, floor, and water to the table you don’t argue about who brought which ingredient.
“They’re there. Make the cake!” Cafero said.
He said there are a whole bunch of things Democrats, Republicans and the governor agree on and those are the things that should be getting done.
However, there isn’t much getting done, especially in the House, which debated another bill for more than four hours today.
Majority Leader Denise Merrill, D-Mansfield, said the lengthy debates on these bills are directly related to the Republican party’s well-orchestrated filibusters.
“You can’t let people bully you into doing things,” Majority Leader Denise Merrill, D-Mansfield, said. “We’re sitting here trying to get work done.”
She said “calling the question” to end the debate and force a vote is a last resort. She said the tradition is to let every legislator talk as long as they want on any particular bill.
She said the Republican party has made four bills a priority and two of them have already passed, while another was on the agenda Wednesday.
Last week Cafero said when the House is debating bills of little significance like the bill which requires all US flags on public buildings to be made in the USA, then “that’s not the people’s business.”
He said the flag bill changes nothing. “It’s perceived as arrogance and indifference to the process by the majority,” Cafero said.
Merrill said that’s just not true. She said Wednesday’s lengthy debate will determine how insurance companies cover artificial limbs and ostomy supplies for people with chronic medical conditions.