While Republicans claimed the legislature’s Democratic majority wasn’t doing enough to close what amounts to a $337 million budget deficit, Democratic lawmakers claimed to be “chipping away” at the problem and blamed the governor for not aggressively going after federal funds.
At the end of the day the House and Senate passed a bill that cuts about $12.4 million in spending and reduces a handful of special funds by $23.15 million. A second bill increased revenues $76.2 million by delaying the scheduled estate tax reduction for two years.
Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell had offered a budget mitigation plan a few weeks ago that cut $116 million in spending, but after an all-day hearing on that proposal Democratic lawmakers decided Rell’s plan would cost the state an estimated 5,000 jobs and scrapped it in favor of their own.
In response Monday, Rell said she was “profoundly disappointed – again – at the lack of leadership and lack of action by the Democratic majority.”
“Instead of paring back on spending, the majority continues to run from their responsibility,” Rell said. “The majority ignored my call for a special session last week, but pledged to act by Christmas. Their action was not worth the wait – just $12 million in actual cuts, $23 million in fund sweeps and other sleight-of-hand accounting. Their gifts are brightly wrapped, but the boxes are empty.”
But Majority Leader Denise Merrill, D-Mansfield, said Rell’s proposal would have cost the state 5,000 private sector jobs, which would have added to the economic crisis the state faces.
“Our plan doesn’t cut jobs,” Merrill said. “Our plan relies on additional federal funds.”
The plan includes “responsible cuts” and no borrowing, Merrill said. “This is the best we can do and we’re going to continue to work on it.”
“The easiest thing you could do tonight is vote, ‘No‘,” Merrill said.
And that’s just what the Republican minority in the House and Senate did Monday.
“Once again despite our enduring fiscal crisis, the Democrats have fallen way short of mitigating our deficit,“ House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said. “This is the fifth time in just over a year that we have had to come back in special session to address the deficit.”
Sen. Dan Debicella, R-Shelton, said it felt like Bill Murray’s movie “Groundhog Day.” For those who have never seen the flick, Debicella said, it’s about a guy who relives the same snowy day over, and over again, until he figures out what he is doing wrong.
The Democratic majority’s attempt at mitigating the budget deficit is similar to efforts made last year, which ended with the state borrowing $950 million to close the budget deficit, Debicella said. He said he hopes the Democrats learn their lesson like Murray did toward the end of the movie.
Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, said she doesn’t think telling the governor to do her job is considered punting. She said she has the statutory authority to make sure the things implemented in the state budget are completed.
Democrats continue to say Rell has failed to get the federal funding the state deserves and has failed to renegotiate contracts with the HMO’s that manage the state’s Medicaid programs.
But not every Democratic lawmaker in the senate was on board with the spending cuts Monday.
Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, was one of four Democratic senators to vote against the bill.
In the hallway outside the Senate Chamber Slossberg said she didn’t think the spending cuts went far enough.
“It’s time for us to make additional reductions in spending,” she said. When asked if she would have accepted the governor’s $116 million in spending cuts, Slossberg said she would have accepted a lot of them because if the state Comptroller is right and the deficit is closer to $550 million then some “painful decisions,” may be on the horizon.