Connecticut lawmakers tried their best Tuesday to clear the calendar as they raced toward Wednesday’s midnight deadline, but not everything was going as planned.
Down from an early estimate of more than 1,200 pages to around 300, the bill to implement $18.9 billion in state spending was not completed late Tuesday and lawmakers were struggling with technology in both chambers. They were able to pass a $953 million bonding package that includes millions of dollars for roads and schools.
Several Capitol sources doubted that they would be able to get all the work done and still take what was expected to be a four-hour break Wednesday to pay tribute to retiring Senate President Donald Williams and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney.
But Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, begged to differ. He said the House can start the debate on the implementer bill Wednesday while the Senate pays tribute to its outgoing members.
However, what will still be in the implementer and what won’t remains a mystery to lawmakers and lobbyists. Legislative leaders were behind closed-doors in House Speaker Brendan Sharkey’s office early Wednesday morning working out the details.
Would Sharkey’s reverse PILOT bill be passed by the Senate? Would the Senate water it down as retribution for Sharkey’s decision to kill a bill banning genetically modified grass earlier in the session?
What about medical foundations and hospital conversions? Would those be separate bills or will legislators try to include them in the implementer? And is there enough time to debate it all?
Lobbyists began to wonder late Tuesday if a special session would be necessary to finish everything lawmakers had been unable to get done. A special session in an election year, with state party conventions just a week away, would be inconvenient for those who would like to leave governing behind to hit the campaign trail.
“It’s always an issue in the short session,” Looney said. “We try to do the same amount of work in a shorter period of time.”
He said it’s inevitable that a large number of votes get taken at the end.
But there’s generally a larger cushion of time and there isn’t always tension between the House and the Senate caucuses, which are each controlled by the Democratic Party.
Williams declined to say what would happen to Sharkey’s reverse PILOT bill Wednesday morning, but remained confident that the details of the implementer would be fine tuned enough for both chambers to take up the bill.
But in order for that to happen, Republicans in the minority will need to cooperate. As with any legislative session, the minority party holds the power of the filibuster over the majority throughout the final few days and hours.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero was waiting to see what happened with negotiations before making a prediction on how things will go Wednesday.
“It all depends on the language,” said Cafero, who is one of more than a dozen House members retiring after this year.