(Updated) The Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee scheduled to start at 2 p.m. Wednesday was delayed until tomorrow because Democrats in the House and Democrats in the Senate couldn’t come to agreement on how to close this year’s more than $500 million budget deficit.
Rumors of attempts to use a parliamentary procedure to split the Finance Committee into two committees, one for the House and one for the Senate, swirled outside the committee room as House Speaker Chris Donovan and Senate President Donald Williams met to resolve the differences between the two caucuses.
Splitting the committee, a procedure rarely used even when the caucuses are controlled by opposing parties, would have allowed the Senate side of the committee to vote on a bill it could use as a vehicle to pass a deficit mitigation plan on Friday. The House would never have to vote on the deficit mitigation plan if their Finance Committee refused to pass the bill out of committee, but it would allow the Senators, especially those running for re-election, to say they tried to do something.
The Democratic caucus in the House doesn’t agree with the Senate Democratic caucus’ mitigation proposal, thus far, and didn’t want to ask its caucus to vote on it. It’s still unclear what’s in the proposal that the House Democrats find objectionable.
But even Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell seems to be hearing the rumors about a potential deficit mitigation proposal.
“Third, it has come to my attention that the Senate is considering adopting a deficit mitigation package on Friday that reflects my proposal in that it relies heavily on spending cuts to address our current year deficit,” Rell wrote in this letter to legislative leaders Wednesday. “While I very much appreciate and welcome the long-awaited attention to spending cuts, I am disheartened by the likelihood that the package will not, it is suggested, be taken up by the House. It is being posited that the Senate will take up this package knowing that the House is not going to act on it and that a second, less cut-oriented consensus package will be then offered.”
Donovan and Williams were not immediately available for comment.
“Senate Democrats are working hard on finding solutions to the current budget crisis and will vote on a deficit mitigation plan that fully balances the current year deficit by the end of this month,” Williams, said in an emailed statement sent out Wednesday evening. “The current stalemate in unacceptable. Democrats must present an alternative and break the log jam. Gov. Rell could help. Unfortunately her letter to legislative leaders – delivered to the press first – is unproductive.”
Donovan’s spokesman said the two sides agreed to exchange proposals and reconvene tomorrow for further negotiations.
Rep. Cam Staples, co-chairman of the Finance Committee, said the committee recessed until Thursday to allow the leaders to meet and work out a common strategy for deficit mitigation.
“We felt the best thing to do was to hold off voting on bills,” Staples said.
What if the two sides can’t come to an agreement?
“Then we’ll deal with that when it happens,“ Sen. Eileen Daily, the other co-chairman of the Finance Committee, said.
Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, who watched the drama unfold Wednesday, said he’s “a little concerned the majority party isn’t putting its best foot forward to tackle the deficit mitigation problem.”
“They don’t appreciate the dire situation we’re in,” Candelora said.
“It’s more evidence that there’s a complete disconnect between the members of the two chambers,“ House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said.
“The supermajority is going to lead this state into a fiscal abyss,” Cafero said. “They’re got to get their act together.”