(Updated 4:43 p.m.) Surrounded by children and balloons Tuesday, the state’s top two Democratic leaders stood outside the state Capitol and said they expect to run a budget later this week when the General Assembly convenes its special session.
Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said they have been communicating with Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell and are holding out hope that they may be able to pass a budget that she will sign. He said while the two sides have been communicating with the governor, they said they have not been meeting face-to-face.
“We would certainly like to have the governor’s input on what we run on Thursday, but we are preparing a budget,” Speaker of the House Chris Donovan said.
“We’re revising our proposal in light of the discussions that we’ve had with – and continue to have with – the governor’s office,” Williams said.
But both Williams and Donovan were vague Tuesday about the details of the budget they will ask the General Assembly to approve Thursday.
“There could be changes between this moment and Thursday,” Donovan said.
Democrats continue to say they cut $2.8 billion in spending, but Rell has said most of those cuts are found through gimmicks and contends the Democrats really only cut about $1.2 billion.
Will they be cutting spending further than the $2.8 billion to accommodate Rell?
“It’s one of the things we’re considering,” Williams said.
It’s also possible they will lower the amount of income taxes they will levy on the state’s wealthiest residents. Rell has not been supportive of an increase in the income tax, saying she has put all the taxes she is ready to support on the table. Rell supports tax hikes on cigarettes, alcohol, and corporations.
On July 30 Rell put a $37 billion, two-year budget on the table that would increase taxes and fees by $690 million. Later that same day, Democrats countered with a plan that spends $860 million more than Rell’s and raises $1.96 billion in additional taxes and fees.
In anticipation of Thursday’s special session, Donovan said he met with five or six of the 14 Democratic lawmakers who voted against the Democrats’ budget on June 26.
“It’s hard enough to get a majority in good economic times,” Donovan said Tuesday. It’s unclear if the House and the Senate have enough votes to override a gubernatorial veto.
“It remains to be seen,” Williams said. “What we really need is 19 votes. Any more than that is terrific.”
There are 24 Democrats in the Senate and 114 Democrats in the House. To override a veto, all 24 Democrats in the Senate would need to vote in favor of the budget in order to make it veto-proof.
While nothing is carved in stone, Donovan said he will caucus with Democrats Wednesday to discuss the budget proposal.
The impact of the state being without a budget is “only going to get worse in September,” Williams said.
The children and parents gathered Tuesday at the state Capitol know all too well how bad things may get. Without a budget in place, eight Family Resource Centers have closed, one or more classrooms at seven Head Start programs also have closed, and School Readiness programs are in jeopardy.
Juleen Flanagan, co-chair of the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance, said Tuesday that “the state budget may be in need of fixing, but it should not be on the backs of children.”
Parents like Tawana Bourne of Middletown said Head Start has enabled her as a single-parent to get to work so that she can support her family. She said that without Head Start, she doesn’t know how she will provide for her children because she doesn’t have money for childcare.
By investing in the children now, the state will receive a return on that investment, Bourne said.
While Democratic lawmakers admitted that their budget trims state spending for Family Resource Centers by 5 percent, it doesn’t go as far as the governor’s 20 percent cut to the program.
There are 62 Family Resource Centers in the state and each offer parent education, training, child care, literacy programs, counseling, and access to basic social services for struggling families.
A Connecticut Voices for Children policy brief concludes that all three programs, Family Resource Centers, Head Start, and School Readiness programs have been impacted by the lack of a state budget and “insufficient” payment for services provided during July and August.
“If no state budget can be reached in the near future, the Governor’s September allotment must include enough funding to keep these programs operating at full capacity,” the advocacy group concludes. “It is vital that Connecticut maintain programs that assist its hardworking families and promote success for its future generations.”