Republican legislative leaders have grown concerned over the past few weeks about conversations the Democratic majority is having with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget team.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero of Norwalk, who is Italian, is fond of saying, “if the macaroni is cooked” then he wants to know. The macaroni he’s referring to is the $40 billion, two-year budget proposal, which increases taxes $1.5 billion, cuts about $760 million in spending, and asks unions for $1 billion in concessions per year.
Malloy’s administration maintained Tuesday that the minority party has a seat at the table and it made Budget Director Ben Barnes available to the caucus just last week for budget discussions.
But Cafero said he’s having a hard time understanding how Republicans truly have a seat at the table if Malloy refuses to concede the “framework” for his budget.
During a meeting with Barnes last week, Republicans were told Malloy isn’t willing to lower the amount of tax increases in exchange for more spending cuts, Cafero said.
“That’s not being an honest broker of ideas,” Cafero said.
He also took issue with the amount of documentation Barnes brought to the meeting. He said he sees Barnes walk off to meetings with Democratic lawmakers with piles of paperwork under his arms. He said he pulled a “lousy sheet of paper out of a canvas bag” when he met with Republicans last week.
Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s senior communications adviser, said Tuesday that the governor is committed to the framework of the budget, but that’s completely different than their accusations that he’s not reaching out to them.
“If they want to come forward and offer up spending cuts that do not shred the safety net then those ideas will be given the respect they deserve,” Occhiogrosso said. Proposals, offered frequently by Republicans, such as the proposal to sell Bradley International Airport or other state assets also won’t be entertained.
The governor still has the right to reject those ideas, but that doesn’t mean the lines of communications with Republicans have gone dark, he said.
“The macaroni isn’t cooked, in fact it’s not even al dente,” Ochiogrosso said.
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said “you can’t on one hand say you’re steadfast on your framework, then say you’re open to ideas on the other.”
“How can we make a spending cut, if they’re not willing to come down on their $1.5 billion,” McKinney said.
“He’s trying to get a deal with the Democrats,” McKinney said.
However, Cafero warned that if the $1 billion in labor concessions fall through and another $1 billion in spending cuts need to be made, he’s likely going to lose Democratic support very quickly.
Cafero said if at that point Barnes then comes knocking on Republicans’ doors for help he’s not going to receive a warm welcome.
“They haven’t engaged us as part of the budget process, and there’s clearly no room to negotiate,” Cafero said. “Not only is the macaroni cooked, but it’s getting cold.”
Republicans plan to release their alternative budget proposal shortly. Democrats, on the other hand, are sticking mostly to Malloy’s proposal even though they may modify how the tax increases are distributed.