(Updated with latest proposal) Despite days of infighting, Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate held a joint press conference Friday to announce that they had crafted a deficit mitigation plan upon which both caucuses agree.
Theproposal being circulated Friday afternoon sought to eliminate this year’s more than $500 million budget deficit with a combination of cuts, taxes, and federal funding increases. The actual deficit lawmakers will seek to erase was lowered by the $100 million deferral in the state employees pension fund and about $47 million in federal funding increases.
When asked about the differences between the two caucuses, House Speaker Chris Donovan dismissed the inference saying it was all “speculative rumor,” as he walked out of the room.
“I’ve never been on a separate track. Don and I have been on the same track, we sat down and worked it out,” Donovan said. “People speculate and make rumors around here, but we’ve been working on the budget, put it together. Let’s go.”
Republican lawmakers have criticized the move as saying it was “all for show,” and wondered about the timing during a contentious election year.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero was beside himself when he received the phone call from Donovan Friday afternoon shortly before 4 p.m. telling him the House would be in session at noon Saturday. He called the deficit mitigation plan, which he has yet to see a final draft of, a “mockery.” He said the state is facing the most severe economic and fiscal crisis in its history and the Democrats are increasing spending and taxes.
“I would like to see the Republicans get beyond politics of an election year and join us in terms of solving these problems,” Sen. President Donald Williams said.
As far as the sudden urgency to get something done, Williams denied accusations that this came up at the last minute.
“This isn’t last minute we’ve been working on this for months now and particularly in the last couple of weeks,” Williams said. “They see this as all for show, that’s not true.”
Estate Tax Reversal
The last time the Democrats tried to mitigate the budget deficit, Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed the measure saying that the citizens of the state can’t afford an increase in taxes.
“As I have repeatedly stated, I do not believe that we can tax our way out of our current economic difficulties,“ Rell said in her veto message. “The General Assembly has become addicted to spending and taxing and borrowing to pay for their extravagance. This approach is simply not sustainable. I cannot and will not support a tax increase, even a temporary one, at a time when so many of our residents are already struggling.”
At the time the tax on wealthy estates was expected to be reduced from estates worth $2 million to those worth $3.5 million. Democratic lawmakers had sought to delay the reduction. They seemed poised reverse the reduction in a similar proposal Friday evening.
When asked if they would split the bill in two, in case Rell decided again to veto the estate tax, Williams said, it would be one bill.
“I would hope that we’d see the governor take our lead and understand that her budget package did help us in this,” Williams said.