The Democratic-controlled legislature is knowingly trying to pass a budget that will exceed the state’s constitutional spending cap, Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury, charged during debate over a bill to implement that budget.
The more than-$20 billion budget falls just $1 million under the spending cap, O’Neill said, noting the budget for the previous biennium exceeded its original spending estimates by close to $330 million.
“What you’re talking about is a budget that almost certainly goes over the spending cap,” he said.
Rep. Toni Walker, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, admitted she was also concerned about the spending cap. But she said the previous budget overrun was partially due to one of the worst winters in the state’s history which drove up spending in a way the legislature hadn’t anticipated.
Walker expressed confidence in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration and their ability to keep spending under the cap. She said the implementation of generally accepted accounting principles will help since the state will be using a “debit card as opposed to the previously used credit card.”
The governor’s staff proposed delaying GAAP by two years in order to close the $400 million budget gap left over when the administration was only able to get $1.6 billion in a tentative union agreement, instead of the $2 billion Gov. Dannel P. Malloy intended.
Still, O’Neill said that no governor in recent memory has been able to keep spending within a million dollars of its estimate. Just the state comptroller’s office, then run by current Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, overran its own budget by more than $600,000, he said. That is approaching the $1 million cushion factored in for a $20 billion budget, he pointed out.
When compared to the budget, $1 million amounts to a tiny fraction of 1 percent, O’Neill said.
“That’s like saying you’re going to balance your family budget for the year within a penny,” he said.
Walker said if the spending were to run up against the cap, there are options. The governor could issue a declaration of fiscal exigency, she said, which would allow the state to spend over the cap. However, that would need to be approved by both legislative chambers with a least a three-fifths majority.
O’Neill said the honest thing to do would be to recognize the budget will run over the limit and make the declaration. He told fellow lawmakers that passing the implementer would be a “subversion” of the state constitution.
“If you pass this bill you are taking this state into a constitutional crunch—a constitutional crisis,” he said.