Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed both attempts by the legislature’s Democratic majority to reduce the state’s estimated $337 million budget deficit last week calling it a “refusal to confront the reality” of the fiscal crisis.
One bill delayed the scheduled reduction in the estate tax to help the state bring in more revenue. The second bill cut about $12.4 million from the General Fund and about $23.5 million from off-budget special accounts.
“It is simply unacceptable for the majority party in the General Assembly to nibble away at the problem without making the hard choices that our current economic reality requires,” Rell said in a press release.
“It is a repeat of the same pattern we have seen time and again this year: Regrettably, it is an outright refusal to admit that state spending has far exceeded the ability of state taxpayers – any state taxpayers – to pay for it,” Rell added.
Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, disagreed.
He said the legislature’s Democratic majority “made a responsible effort last week to close the gap.”
The decision to veto both bills was “somewhat surprising” Looney said. “It means we’re further apart than we were before.“
He said he thought at least she would sign the bills and ask the legislature to continue to work on the problem.
But the vetoes may have been all part of the plan from the beginning Looney said.
He said Rell’s proposed $116 million in deep cuts to social services and $84 million in municipal aid were never things she “thought we’d accept,” which is why she proposed them. He said that way she gets the benefit of putting out the larger number in spending cuts, when she knows it will never happen.
Rell’s office says the veto messages speak for themselves.
In addition to vetoing the two bills Rell also proposed legislation increasing her executive rescission authority. Currently she can cut up to 3 percent of the total appropriation from any fund or five percent of any appropriation without legislative approval when the budget deficit is greater than 1 percent of the General Fund.
In the press release Rell proposed increasing her rescission authority to up to 6 percent of the total appropriation from any fund or 10 percent of any appropriation when a deficit of 3 percent or more exists. She also proposed increasing it up to 10 percent of a total appropriation from any fund or 15 percent of any appropriation when a deficit of 5 percent or more exists. Any reductions in municipal aid would still require legislative approval.
“The legislation that I have drafted does not give a Governor unlimited power to slash budgets,” Rell said Monday. “Writing and following a state budget is – and should remain – a balanced process, something that involves all three branches of government. But when the process – and the budget – is badly out of balance, as is certainly the case right now, someone must be able to restore that equilibrium.”
Looney called the legislation a “smokescreen.” He said Rell hasn’t used the full extent of her current rescission authority. He said she’s looking to act like a “strong executive,” but “shied away from using her executive authority.”
Senate Republicans supported increasing Rell’s rescission authority. “Since the beginning of this budget crisis, Democrat leaders have left Governor Rell all alone in making the difficult, but necessary spending cuts these times demand,” Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said in a press release. “That’s why Senate Republicans have proposed increasing the Governor’s rescission authority in the past and why we feel it is a necessary step toward balancing our budget today.”
Looney maintained that Rell has yet to use her full rescission authority under current law and therefore does not need to increase it.
“Governor Rell’s veto is a clear signal that she places a higher value on protecting a new tax break on estates worth more than $3.5 million than closing this year’s budget deficit and protecting thousands of Connecticut jobs,“ House Speaker Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, said in a statement Monday.
“The plan approved by the House and Senate balanced the state budget,” Donovan said. “Her veto is irresponsible and puts our state in financial jeopardy.”
Even though the Democrats have a Supermajority on paper, Looney said a veto override would be unlikely.
The House voted 101 to 38 and the Senate voted 19 to 15 on the spending cuts. The House voted 97 to 39 and the Senate voted 22 to 12 in favor of delaying the estate tax. The House needs 101 votes to override a veto and the Senate needs 24 votes.