Some political theater planned by the Democratic state party went off-script Thursday when Capitol police prevented an intern dressed in a chicken costume from delivering chicken wings to legislative Republican leaders.
The display was meant to bait Republicans, who signaled Thursday they will not hold a press conference to release their own budget proposal this year. The decision is a break from recent tradition for Republicans, who have held media events to unveil counter-budgets for the past six years.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, who are both considering running for governor next year, said they planned to offer amendments with Republican ideas when Democrats debated their budget on the floor this year. But despite days of prodding from the state Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo, both said they would not be holding a press conference to offer a complete budget.
Last week, Democrats posted a PDF file to their website entitled “GOP’s budget proposal for FY 2014-2015.” It consisted of a title page followed by 79 blank pages.
Cafero and McKinney said Democrats have dismissed Republican budget ideas in the past, and only wanted them to release an alternative budget this year so it could be used as a distraction from the proposal Democrats have put forward.
Thursday’s chicken costume stunt did not deflate the distraction argument. Capitol police stopped Democratic intern Matt Wildman in the Legislative Office Building, saying he could not wear the chicken costume, which covered his face, around the Capitol complex.
Instead, Wildman delivered small bowls of chicken wings dressed in a gray T Shirt, flanked by DiNardo’s spokeswoman Elizabeth Larkin. He left one bowl with a staffer in House Republican offices and another on the floor outside McKinney’s offices.
McKinney said he had not seen the chicken wings, but his spokesman Brett Cody said Capitol police picked up the bowl and a note left with it.
Larkin handed out a press release from DiNardo calling Cafero and McKinney “afraid” to offer an alternative budget.
“Larry Cafero and John McKinney say they want to lead this state, but they don’t have the guts it takes to be governor. By not putting forward a workable budget alternative they are acknowledging they either have no ideas, or they’re afraid to make tough choices,” she said.
McKinney said the decisions made by the governor and the Democrats have left the state’s finances in “terrible shape.”
“They’ve continued to make poor choice after poor choice. They are looking for us to put a budget out right now so they can deflect attention away from their bad budget and their poor choices and point the finger of blame at Republicans and we’re not going to play their game,” he said.
Cafero said Democrats were “embarrassed” by their own budget and looking for a GOP alternative, which they have “mocked” in previous years.
“I’m not going to take their bait and fall for it,” he said. “They want to be able to say ‘Don’t make fun of our budget. Look at their budget and how bad it would be.’ We are not giving them that satisfaction because we have not been invited into [the negotiating] room.”
If at some point the Democrats want to invite the Republicans to the table then Cafero said they would offer up their ideas, but until then there’s no point, he said.
Democratic legislative leaders said they were “disappointed.”
“It is deeply disappointing that the Republican leaders are choosing to play politics rather than offer a constructive budget proposal,” Sen. President Donald Williams said in a statement. “In order to address tough problems we need real solutions from Republicans and Democrats. Unfortunately, the Republicans have opted out of being part of the solution. The Republicans are ducking their responsibilities – they want to criticize but refuse to offer an alternative.”
This is the first time since 2006 that the Republican leaders have chosen not to offer an alternative budget., but Republicans say it would be impossible to offer a budget that adheres to the structural confines of the current one.