Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had a Philly Cheesesteak. Republican House Leader Themis Klarides had a grilled cheese on rye. But that’s about where the substance of their lunch meeting ended Friday.
Malloy said that if Republicans want to have a meetings about their ideas for where to cut the budget, then they should pick up the phone and call his office instead of delivering invitations to the news media.
“I’m more than happy to get suggestions on what should be rescinded or what shouldn’t be rescinded,” Malloy told Klarides as five news cameras and a dozens reporters surrounded their table, listening with microphones propped up on a paper cup in the middle of the table.
He went onto explain that the two-year budget he will present on Feb. 18 “is an executive function under the constitution to submit a budget.”
Klarides said she thought the invitation was delivered to the governor’s office first, and also said she could appreciate his frustration. However, moving forward, Klarides made clear that Republicans are focused on the $121 million deficit in 2015 and will patiently wait for his two-year budget.
“I think you’re just getting a little ahead of the game here,” Klarides told Malloy. “We’re not talking about how we’re going to negotiate the next two years.”
She said the deficit the state is currently running is not heading in the right direction and could be bigger than even the Malloy administration is projecting. In a letter to Democratic legislative leaders, Klarides and Senate Republican leader Len Fasano said the $121 million deficit doesn’t seem to be counting the additional $45 million in tax refunds the state anticipates receiving before the end of the fiscal year or the $35 million “hole in retiree healthcare needs” identified by the comptroller.
“Help us help you,” Klarides said.
Malloy said that if Klarides has suggestions for cuts, then he’s happy to have his Budget Director Ben Barnes run the numbers.
“For days I have been saying that if you have ideas, please submit them,” Malloy told Klarides. “And I am giving you my word that if you had submitted them . . . we could do something.”
Klarides said she appreciates that and she knows they don’t want to talk about how they got to a well-publicized lunch in a public cafeteria surrounded by television cameras, but before Malloy suggested to reporters on Wednesday that Republicans write their ideas down on the back on an envelope, she said Republicans had been writing his office and asking for meetings.
Malloy said he’s had both Klarides and Fasano in his office for discussions, but neither raised the issue.
After the lunch, Malloy and Klarides held separate press conferences outside the cafeteria.
“I have never been accused of not meeting with people,” Malloy told reporters.
Malloy said he invited the Republicans to bring numbers with them, but didn’t characterize his feeling when he learned they didn’t.
“I can assure that if we had gotten numbers or suggestions or line items or things that people thought we should take into consideration they absolutely would be taken into consideration,” Malloy said.
He said he thinks the invitation from the Republicans “was more about politics than it was about policy.”
Klarides said she has a list of budget rescissions on her desk that she’s happy to share with the governor. She said just one example of that list would be to have the head of every state agency cut a half-percent from their budget.
“They [agency heads] know better than we know where they can cut and where is the least hurtful to the state of Connecticut,” Klarides said.
The lunch and the statements were made before Malloy’s latest round of budget rescissions were announced.
Klarides said she couldn’t comment on the latest budget cuts because she had not seen them, but she added that it was certainly interesting how before the November election there was no deficit and then suddenly after the election one pops up.
On November 14, 2014, Malloy’s budget office announced the state was running about a $99.5 million deficit, an amount that was even larger than the one projected earlier that day by nonpartisan legislative analysts.
“It certainly seems coincidental that for months and months during an election cycle we were supposedly going forward economically and things were looking up and we weren’t going to have a deficit, and then within less than a few weeks after the election all of a sudden a deficit pops up,” Klarides said. “How did you not see it coming?”
She said Republicans have been sounding the alarms bells on this, but no one seems to want to listen.
Fasano was out of state and unable to attend the meeting Friday, but he sent a letter to the governor to tell him if he’s “truly serious about working in a bipartisan effort to address the budget deficit I would like to schedule a formal meeting with you and all legislative leaders at your earliest convenience.”
Fasano continued: “Multimillion dollar budget holes cannot be closed in a lunchroom meeting.”