Hugh McQuaid photo

In a series of four post-legislative session press conferences Thursday, a narrative for the 2014 gubernatorial election began to play out 18 months before Election Day.

Republican legislative leaders Lawrence Cafero and John McKinney are both considering a run against Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in 2014.

At a press conference Thursday morning both were critical of the two-year budget document they predict will be in deficit again within the year. Democratic legislative leaders, who held separate press conferences, and Malloy criticized Republicans for not offering an alternative budget. Republicans have offered a counter-proposal for the last seven years.

“When have you ever heard of the Democrats saying, ‘where is the Republican budget?’,” Cafero said. “They never say that because they don’t care about it.”

What happened, according to Cafero and McKinney, was that after Democrats crafted their budget they were so embarrassed by it they needed a diversion and Republicans refused to provide that diversion by offering an alternative budget.

Cafero said if they produced an alternative budget it would have had to play by the rules of the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition agreement from 2011. And that would leave Republicans with no alternative but to make deep cuts to government programs

“[Democrats] wanted to be able to say ‘don’t look at our budget, look at what they just did’,” Cafero said. “. . . We were not going to take that bait and be allowed to be the scapegoat for the focus changing off their budget.”

Republicans said Malloy’s first budget was built on the second-largest tax increase in the state’s history and employee savings he didn’t achieve. McKinney pointed to the $485 million in unachieved savings from the SEBAC agreement and asked the public to compare it to cuts in the two-year budget approved earlier this week.

“Look at $500 million plus cuts to hospitals, or $315 million in tax increases, or $500 million in one shots that kicks the can down the road, any one of those three you realize he chose — I would argue for political purposes — not to force SEBAC to live up to its end of the deal, but to punish people across the state of Connecticut,” McKinney said.

Malloy countered that Republicans have no right to criticize any budget because they didn’t offer up one of their own.

“For Republicans who never even bothered to give us a budget to level these ad hominem complaints, after the fact is . . . please don’t let them off-the-hook,” Malloy told reporters.

On the campaign trail in 2010 Malloy vowed not to use gimmicks to balance the budget, but the two-year budget the General Assembly approved this week includes about $500 million in non-recurring revenues. The Office of Fiscal Analysis also is predicting that the budget will be in deficit by more than $1 billion after the 2014 election.

“This fact that people are predicting deficits, they’re predicting deficits assuming that all conditions stay the same,” Malloy said. “I think what we’ve shown fairly broadly in this administration is that conditions don’t remain the same.”

Hugh McQuaid photo

He said state government is eliminating waste and paying down its pension liabilities.

“Listen, I got hired to turn this place around. We were in the worst shape of any state. That’s where we were,” Malloy said. “We’re in substantially better shape than we were than when we began.”

Malloy said it is nice to “have your cake and eat it too,” but he said that’s impossible when it comes to state-labor negotiations and balancing the budget.

“I mean, cake-eating is what these guys do best,” he said.

As far as gubernatorial politics are concerned, “We’ll get to elections when we get to elections if we get to elections,” he said.

The two Democratic legislative leaders hit the same notes as Malloy when it came to defending the budget against Republican criticism that it will fall out of balance fairly quickly.

Sen. President Donald Williams and House Speaker Brendan Sharkey both criticized Republicans for failing to offer a counter budget proposal even though in the past the Republican proposal was dismissed by the Democratic Party.

“There’s a reason why people haven’t taken Republican budgets in the past seriously,” Williams said. “In the past when they’ve talked about filling the budget gap by selling Bradley Airport and plugging in one-shots of billions of dollars, of course, folks haven’t taken that seriously.”

He said that’s why this year it was even more important they put serious proposals on the table. He said for the first time today, Republicans told the media they had some budget ideas.

“Where is their secret plan?” Williams said. “Can they please now release their secret plan that they apparently held back.”

Republicans said they offered up ideas, but Democratic lawmakers locked them out of budget negotiations and didn’t want to hear their ideas.

“Republicans stated on television that balancing the budget is not their job,” Sharkey said, adding that for the first time in seven years Republicans didn’t offer a counter-budget proposal, and “now if that was caught up in gubernatorial politics for folks, maybe that was part of it.”

“The bottomline was that the Republicans checked out on this issue weeks ago and when they say publicly ‘it’s not our job’ to engage on the budget and offer these solutions that’s proof that they’ve checked out,” Sharkey said.

Hugh McQuaid contributed to this report.