A trio of Democratic Senators who don’t want to make the changes to the spending cap proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy are holed up in the state Capitol working on finding the necessary spending cuts to balance the budget under the current rules.
Sens. Paul Doyle, Joan Hartley, and Gayle Slossberg aren’t sold on the idea that the state should exempt certain pots of money from the spending cap.
Malloy’s budget and the budget proposed by the Democrat-controlled Appropriations Committee would stop counting any new spending for which the state will be reimbursed completely under a federal government program against the cap. Payments made on unfunded liabilities for both the state employee and teacher retirement systems also would be excluded.
“At this point in time, I’m not voting for the cap,” Doyle said Thursday.
Slossberg and Hartley agree that it’s not time to change 20-year-old cap instituted in 1991 as a way to quell anger over the enactment of the state income tax.
The cap was put in place to keep state spending in line with annual growth in personal income. It takes a three-fifths majority of the General Assembly in order to change it. That means all 22 Democratic Senators need to vote in favor of the measure.
The dissent among the trio of Senators is causing some tension as budget negotiations continue behind closed-doors and in the halls of the state Capitol.
Those tensions surfaced outside the Senate chamber Thursday.
A reporter was asking Slossberg about those budget meetings when Sen. President Donald Williams walked up and tersely asked Slossberg to share any budget ideas with him first before speaking to the press.
The two stepped aside to have a private conversation. When Slossberg returned she only said that “we’re looking at all the various options.”
“We have a varied caucus and we’re trying to look at all of the options so that we can all be on the same page,” she said in a brief, 30-second interview.
The talks have forced those in budget negotiations to begin thinking about other ways to resolve the issue without having to cut about $1 billion from the two-year state budget.
One of the ideas being tossed around is the creation of a separate account for all Medicaid spending, which will largely be reimbursed in full by the federal government starting in January 2014. Separating Medicaid into a special account so that money wouldn’t count toward the spending cap would resolve the bulk of the issue and wouldn’t require a three-fifths majority to pass.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said that if the Senate is unable to get the necessary votes to modify the spending cap, then it’s something they will have to consider.
“Other states do this. They don’t include their Medicaid costs that are being reimbursed under their budget,” Sharkey said. “So this is something I’ve heard of, I’m aware the Appropriations Committee is looking at.”
He said he thinks the way the spending cap was defined 20 years ago was “flawed.”
Rep. Toni Walker, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said the legislature needs to address the spending cap issue because if it didn’t it would need to cut another $1 billion from the budget to achieve what it wants to achieve.
“We are at bare bones right now,” Walker said. “We don’t have any more room.”
She said they’re all looking at different ways to address the budget under the current rules, but there’s no one solution at the moment.
“We’re trying to get our hands around everything we have to do,” Walker said.
She suggested that if the trio of Senators is so concerned about state spending then they should add up all the dollars that go directly to their local communities and think about forfeiting them in order to balance the budget.
She said her community of New Haven can’t afford to give up the money it receives from the state.
Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes, who is negotiating the budget on behalf of the Malloy administration, declined to comment Thursday on the negotiations including discussions about creating a Medicaid account to get around the spending cap dilemma.
The legislative session ends June 5 and lawmakers remain optimistic they will have a budget in place before they adjourn.