The General Assembly will convene Tuesday for a special session, but it won’t be the one Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell requested.
House Speaker Chris Donovan said Monday evening that the legislature will return Tuesday morning, but won’t take up Rell’s recommended $337 million in spending cuts.
Instead, the legislature’s Democratic majority will get to work on a plan that asks Rell to delay a scheduled $100 million contribution to state employees pension plan.
The plan being drafted by the legislature’s Democratic majority will also recommend delaying some of the Jan. 1 changes to the estate tax, move up the use of about $33 million in rainy day funds from 2011 to 2010, and reduce the budget by about $60 million. It will not make any cuts to social services or municipal aid, like Rell’s proposal did.
Donovan said the legislature took Rell’s budget mitigation proposal very seriously, but in the end discovered it would cost the state 5,000 jobs and $38.5 million in federal funds.
“We’re not talking about state employee jobs. We’re talking about jobs in hospitals, in communities, in various industries that will be lost in Connecticut,” Donovan said.
Donovan also accused Rell of being derelict in her duty to capture federal funds and grants.
Michael Cicchetti, deputy undersecretary of the Office of Policy and Management, said that‘s absolutely not true.
“The notion that we‘re leaving federal dollars on the table is simply not true,” Cicchetti said in a brief visit to the Capitol Press room. Cicchetti also opined that not one job would be lost under Rell’s proposed deficit mitigation plan.
State Rep. John Geragosian, D-New Britain, said the numbers are accurate. He said the Democrats believe Rell’s budget cuts will result in the loss of 2,000 jobs in hospitals and nursing homes alone.
The Connecticut Hospital Association testified last week that the $80 million in Medicaid funding it receives from the state helps it generate $200 million in economic activity. If Medicaid was cut by 5 percent as the governor proposed then the $200 million in economic activity, which includes jobs, would disappear.
“There are problems with these cuts,“ Majority Leader Denise Merrill, D-Mansfield, said referring to Rell‘s proposal. “And you can’t ignore the fact that significant job loss that would result from these cuts really should be the state’s first priority.”
“We’re not going to come out of this recession by cutting jobs,” Merrill said. “We’re going to come out of the recession by paying attention to job growth.”
But Cicchetti and House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said there are problems with the Democratic proposal too.
The state’s revenue loss is simply not high enough to trigger the $100 million delay in funding state employee pensions, Cicchetti said. He said the agreement between the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition and the governor is triggered only when state revenues dip below $300 million. By his account it has only lost $245 million in revenues.
The Democrats say that’s not true that the state Comptroller’s number is below $300 million.
Cafero said he never thought he’d see the day when Donovan, known for his support of labor unions, would insist upon the governor underfunding union pensions. “But that’s what he said,” Cafero said.
The rest of the Democratic plan is unspecified cuts, Cicchetti said. “The only definitive part of the plan is a tax increase,” he said referring to the delay in the estate tax threshold.
“If this were not such a serious fiscal situation, Speaker Donovan and the Democrats’ ‘plan’ would be laughable,“ Rell’s spokesman Rich Harris said Monday. “Instead, it’s shameful.”
“We’re going to come in session and we’re going to save these jobs and we’re going to solve our deficit problem,” Donovan said. The session date has yet to be announced, but Donovan promised it would be before the Christmas holiday.
Following the press conference Democratic lawmakers gathered at Costa Del Sol in Hartford to raise money for The House Democrat Caucus Committee. Donovan said in an interview last week that the committee raises money to support the organizational structure for the party’s re-election campaigns. It is one of eight leadership PACs allowed under the Citizens Election Program.
“How ironic that Speaker Donovan is hosting a political fundraiser this evening and tomorrow will likely ignore calls to take special-interest money out of campaigns and fix our campaign finance system,“ Harris said. “Shameful – and irresponsible.”
Rell had also asked the legislature to fix the state’s fledgling campaign finance system while the state appeal’s a federal judge’s ruling, but lawmakers won’t be doing that tomorrow either.
State Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, said in a phone interview earlier Monday afternoon that the legislature is still working on a solution for the campaign finance system. She said a special session may be held in January or February to address the necessary changes.
Meanwhile the Second Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the case on Jan. 13.