(Updated) Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s farewell budget address didn’t include any big policy ideas or solutions to the $3 billion budget deficit that the next governor and legislature will inherit.
That’s what both Democrats and Republicans said following Rell’s speech Wednesday on revisions to the $18.91 billion budget.
Rell announced in November that she won’t be seeking re-election in 2010, so Wednesday’s speech was her last annual address to a joint session of the General Assembly.
House Majority Leader Denise Merrill, D-Mansfield, said she heard the governor present some options, but she didn’t hear any real arguments for fixing the structural budget deficit.
“I’m disappointed the commission won’t get going until the end of 2010,” Tom Foley, the Greenwich businessman seeking the Republican nomination for governor, said. “I would have liked her to set a goal to take $1 billion out of the budget.”
Rell proposed the creation of a 24-member Twenty-First Century commission to examine government, achieve efficiencies, eliminate waste and reduce the size and cost of state government.
The commission will include members from all three branches of government and its work will need to be reviewed and completed by Dec. 1, 2010, about one month before the next new governor is sworn into office in January 2011.
“I intend to do everything in my power in my remaining months in office to make the changes that are needed to break insatiable spending habits and to make state government affordable once again,” Rell said. “It would not be fair to my successor – or yours – to simply ignore the fiscal problems that we have today and that we all know lie just ahead.”
Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said the commission is an important and necessary mechanism to help the legislature focus and make changes to the structural budget deficit.
Simsbury First Selectwoman Mary Glassman, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, said the governor put the state on “autopilot.” She said she expected to come to the Capitol today and hear about how Connecticut is going to solve its long term budget problems.
Connecticut is facing a $515 million budget deficit this fiscal year and a $3 billion deficit next fiscal year. Rell’s revised budget includes no tax increases and less than $30 million in spending cuts. The rest of the budget is balanced with anticipated $365.6 million in federal stimulus funds, the delay of a $100 million payment to the state employee’s pension fund, and the establishment of Keno, a lottery-type game, to raise $20 million.
Using a football analogy former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy, said the governor’s speech was “one of the finest punts he’s ever seen.”
Ned Lamont, the frontrunner in the governor’s race, said “it was a missed opportunity to give people the sense that we’ve going to solve this budget crisis.”
But Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, another candidate seeking the Republican nomination for governor, said there were some good first steps made in Rell’s speech about job creation and cutting government spending. He also liked the chord she struck in trying to get the Democrat-controlled legislature to be part of the solution and work with the Republican administration.
Sen. Eileen Daily, D-Westbrook, said Rell had a real opportunity to put forward a bold proposal and she didn’t. “She’s not running again, why couldn’t she do the right thing?” Daily wondered.
Echoing President Barack Obama’s remarks last week, Rell said “We need to stop the game-playing and name-calling and constant bickering that has come to consume too many at the Capitol.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agreed.
“The partisanship colored everything we did last year,“ Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said. “Almost everything we did was partisan.”
“Our priorities is jobs, the governor’s priorities is jobs. That’s a great start,” House Speaker Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, said regarding the common ground in Rell’s speech.
“There were some points of contention, but I don’t want to squabble,” Merrill said. She said a lot of the job creation ideas presented by Rell Wednesday are things both sides can agree on.
Merrill said she likes the idea Rell has for reauthorizing bond funds to help small businesses, but it’s a mixed bag because as governor Rell has control of the bond commission agenda.
“The governor’s call for more civility at the Capitol is something everyone can embrace,” Sen. President Donald Williams and Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, said in a statement Wednesday evening. “Last year at this time there was widespread disagreement over the size of the deficit – Gov. Rell underestimated it by more than $2.5 billion. This year we begin with consensus on the size of the deficit and a renewed commitment to working together to help solve it.”
Rep. John Geragosian, D-New Britain, said the fact that Rell cut less than $30 million from the budget should be a “realization that despite political rhetoric it’s difficult to achieve cuts.”