Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is trying to lead lawmakers through the five stages of grief to get them to a point where they understand the difficult decisions he had to make in order to come up with a two-year, $40 billion budget.
He said he understands that lawmakers, who largely have panned his spending cuts, don’t like the decisions he made, but he thinks it’s too late to start the budget process over again. He said lawmakers are struggling to get to acceptance, which he understands because it also took him time to accept that steep spending cuts were the only way to solve the budget deficit.
“I’m going to tell you that this is the framework,” Malloy said Thursday. “There’s no remaking the budget. Where’s the money going to come from?”
Sen. Beth Bye, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, has said she finds a lot of cuts in Malloy’s budget “untenable.” Her colleagues in the House are just as concerned with some of the spending cuts and, according to sources, the process of coming up with a new budget that ignores some of Malloy’s budget framework is under way.
Malloy said he’s also heard that lawmakers are looking to remake his budget proposal and that’s why he called a group of reporters to his office Thursday to let them know it can’t be done.
Rep. Toni Walker, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said Thursday that there’s a process in place where the governor presents a budget to the legislature, the legislature hears from members of the public, and then comes up with its own budget.
Walker pointed out that the budget Malloy gave them this year was two weeks late and out of balance.
Malloy’a budget office miscalculated the spending cap in the first year of the budget by $54 million, which meant lawmakers would need to look for an additional $54 million in spending cuts, if they planned on using his framework.
Walker said the Appropriations Committee has to go through the budget line-by-line and make sure some of the spending cuts won’t cost the state more money in the future.
“There are three branches of government here and we have to make sure whatever we do does not deter people in Connecticut from thriving,” Walker said.
In addition to making changes to the spending side of the budget, some lawmakers have been looking to increase revenue by raising certain taxes or getting rid of tax exemptions.
Malloy said lawmakers can talk all they want about raising revenue, but they won’t be able to spend the extra money because of the state’s constitutional spending cap.
“The reality is we have a spending cap,” Malloy said, adding that there’s no consensus to get rid of the spending cap or to find ways around it.
According to Republican lawmakers, that is because Democrats don’t have a big enough majority to do either.
“The governor does not have to worry about the legislature exceeding the spending cap, because we can assure you Republicans won’t allow it,” Sens. Len Fasano and Rob Kane, said in a joint statement. “Republicans control this issue. Without Republican support, there simply isn’t a strong enough majority to exceed the cap.”
A super majority is needed in both the House and the Senate to exceed the cap. That means the Senate would need 22 of its 36 members and the House would need 91 of its 151 members to exceed the spending cap. Based on the seats picked up by Republicans in the last election, the Democrats hold an 87-64 seat advantage in the House and a 21-15 seat advantage in the Senate. That means that if the Democrats were unified in support of changing the spending cap in any way — which is unlikely — at least four Republicans in the House and one Republican in the Senate would need to vote in favor.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said the budget process is a “two-step dance” and the legislature is on that second step. He said lawmakers have been very busy listening to the public and “putting together a package they feel reflects the values of their constituents.”
He said he fully expects that by the end of the legislative session they will have reached a compromise on a budget package with the governor.
“There’s an understanding of the difficult decisions that are ahead,” Duff said. “And we will have a budget that reflects those difficult decisions.”
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey agreed.
“The governor acknowledged that the budget is in the legislature’s hands now, and we are committed to building a budget that represents our core Democratic principles – protecting our most vulnerable residents, investing in education and job creation, reflecting a long term vision that encourages economic growth, and is under the spending cap,” he said.
Asked about the Democratic principles included in the budget, Malloy said “I’ll take my core and compare it to anybody else’s core, anytime.” He said he thinks those values are in his budget.