Christine Stuart photo
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero (Christine Stuart photo)

(Updated 3:30 p.m.) After seeing last week’s budget proposals from Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the General Assembly’s Democratic majority, Republican lawmakers offered their own version Thursday afternoon.

At a Capitol press conference, Republican lawmakers said their $36.3 billion budget proposal for the next two years does not increase taxes, like the proposals offered by Rell and the Democrats last week.

“This is the worst time to increase taxes,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said Thursday.

However, Cafero said that doesn’t mean Republican lawmakers are in a “civil war” with Rell, as some have suggested. He said it’s true that the Republican proposal is different than the budget presented last week by Rell, which includes $391 million in new sin and business taxes. But he was quick to point out that the only reason Rell proposed increasing taxes was in an effort to get a compromise with the Democrats on the budget.

“The governor’s ideology has not changed,” Cafero said. “A compromise means not everybody gets all that they want.”

The Republican budget is an estimated $36.3 billion over the next two years, while Rell’s budget is about $36.9 billion over the next two years. Democratic lawmakers have proposed an estimated $37.9 billion budget, which raises taxes $1.8 billion over the next two years.

Republicans said they were able to balance their budget without tax increases by rolling services and programs offered by state agencies back to the level they were funded in 2007.

However, the salaries and benefits negotiated by state employees that work in those agencies won’t be rolled back to the 2007 levels because of the contract negotiated by Rell and agreed to by the General Assembly earlier this year. The Republicans also proposed collecting $75 million from a tax amnesty program, $70 million in the sale of state assets such as unused property, securitization of an additional $125 million in state assets, $50 million in additional debt collection, and $10 million for cell towers on state office buildings. They would also end the Citizens Election Fund, which helps give grants to qualifying candidates running for state office.

Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, said in an emailed statement that he doesn’t see anything new in this Republican budget proposal.

“Democrats and the Governor are coming closer together,” Donovan said. “Even the governor agrees that taxes are needed. The Republican leadership is clearly in conflict with the Governor.”

Democratic lawmakers and Rell still don’t agree on an income tax package. After proposing increases in the tobacco, alcohol, and corporations tax, Rell has repeatedly said that she already has put on the table all the taxes she will support.

Cafero said if the Democratic majority believes that the Republicans are wrong for not wanting to increase taxes then they should vote on their $1.8 billion tax increase because they have the numbers to pass it. He was also quick to point out that such a tax package may not make it through the state Senate where all 24 Democratic senators would need to vote in favor of it in order to get it passed once Rell vetoed it.

“Democrats are asking those who can to pay an extra $20 a week to help us out,” Donovan said. “We look forward to sitting with the Governor to close the gap and agree on a budget for all Connecticut residents.”

The state budget deficit for the next two fiscal years is estimated at $8.5 billion and Connecticut is one of a few states left which has yet to pass a budget.

When asked if Republicans would agree to a state budget which increases taxes Cafero said “I think that the very fact that we have participated and will continue to participate in good faith at that negotiation table.”

“By putting forth this budget we are not saying, ‘Unless there’s absolutely no tax increases we can’t vote for a budget’,” Cafero said. “It would not be realistic, it would not be in good faith and that’s not what we’re saying.”

What about the future $2 billion structural budget hole created by the use of one-time revenue, such as federal stimulus funds?

Cafero explained that there are two ways to eliminate future deficits. He said the state can either cut programs and services or it can increase its revenue stream by increasing taxes.

“It’s a basic issue of philosophy,” Cafero said. “We believe the way to eliminate those structural holes is to cut spending, not to increase taxes.”