(Updated 3:11 p.m.) Republican lawmakers unveiled their own deficit mitigation package Friday morning, which restores an $84 million cut in municipal aid, eliminates funding for the Citizens’ Election Program, cuts state agency spending by $258.3 million, and restores the sales tax reduction.
The “alternative” deficit mitigation plan offered by Republicans Friday is in response to Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s plan, which cuts $337 million in spending from the $18.64 billion 2010 budget.
“Our responsibility is to encourage the majority party to act swiftly to deal with the deficit we face,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said.
Republican lawmakers said they wanted to restore the $84 million in municipal aid because there’s no doubt in their mind that it will result in property tax increases at the local level.
“With regard to direct municipal aid, which the governor has proposed be reduced by $84 million, we respectfully disagree,” Cafero said.
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Southport, said municipalities have done a much better job of managing their budgets and spending their money than state government has.
“So it is at best hypocritical for state government to sit there and lecture our towns and cities how to spend their money when they do it better than we do,” he said.
Does this mean there is some internal strife within the Republican party?
“When our caucuses believe there is a better way we’ve presented it,” Cafero said. “With regard to ideology and the general feeling that we need to make government smaller and spend less money, we stand shoulder to shoulder with the governor.”
Sometimes “we differ on certain ways to do it,” Cafero said.
For the fourth time since they’ve been offering alternative budget plans to their majority party colleagues, the Republicans proposed eliminating the funding for the Citizens’ Election Program. Currently the fund has about $30 million in it, which would be used to help fund the 2010 elections.
Republican lawmakers said the news rules which eliminate special interest and lobbying funds should be continued, but the $30 million in funding should be moved back to the General Fund to help the state reduce the deficit.
Karen Hobert Flynn, vice president of state operations for Common Cause, said eliminating the fund would essentially “gut the program and send it back to the days before reform.” She said even with contribution bans in place money finds its way around the system. However, Flynn said lawmakers should take a hard look at the program and propose a possible fix before the legislative session in February.
“You take away the money and you take away the issue,” Cafero said. He said eliminating the fund would resolve many of the questions raised by a federal judge who decided in August that the program was unconstitutional. The state is currently appealing the decision.
Rell sought to amend the Citizens’ Election Program during the Dec. 15 special session on the deficit. The proposal she presented to the legislature last week would eliminate additional qualifying requirements for minor-party and petitioning candidates, provide grants in the same amounts to all candidates, reduce the size of the grants, and delay the increase in the grant amounts until 2014.
Rell has called lawmakers back into special session to deal with the deficit, but the Democrat-controlled legislature has not said whether it would return.
“We’re encouraged that more and more lawmakers are speaking out about the negative impacts Gov. Rell’s proposed cuts would have on cities and towns,” Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said in a statement Friday. “Today, legislative Republicans joined the chorus. Unfortunately, while Republicans say they want to protect municipalities, their own plan would shift many costs to cities and towns, make midyear property taxes more likely, and possibly compromise public safety.”
House Speaker Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, agreed with Williams that not cutting $84 million in municipal aid is a good idea. However, the other cuts Republicans proposed as part of their $258.3 million cut could also affect municipalities.
“On the one hand, they agree that the Governor’s proposal to cut municipal aid is a bad idea. Yet on the other hand, they recommend tens of millions of dollars in cuts to municipal education programs like priority school districts, magnet and charter schools,” Donovan said in a statement Friday.
Republicans say by cutting 6.5 percent or $258.3 million across the board it means state agencies still have 93.5 percent of their budgets left, but Democrats argue that the state is already six months into the fiscal year. And most of the money in those accounts has already been spent.
“Their 6.5 percent across the board cuts are not only indiscriminate, but double what they claim. The truth is that coming mid-year, when almost half of budget allocations have been spent and more committed, this is really a 13 percent cut that will devastate programs,” Donovan said.
Next week Democratic lawmakers are holding hearings regarding Rell’s deficit proposal. The Appropriations Committee hearing will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 9.