Following a closed-door meeting with their caucus, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey and House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz offered few details about the language they plan to adopt in special session to implement the two-year, $40.3 billion budget that the General Assembly passed on June 3.
“I don’t want to get into specifics about what we talked about in the caucus, but let’s say our members and Democrats in general are hearing the concerns from the public that have been expressed since the budget was announced,” Sharkey said. “It’s our intention to address those concerns.”
There were concerns expressed about the tax increases on corporations and hospitals. There were also concerns about what reducing those taxes would mean for the services the state provides its neediest residents.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told lawmakers he wants to roll back about $223.5 million in tax increases and wants them made up through spending cuts. Neither Malloy nor the Democrats in the legislature have yet mentioned the possibility of laying off state employees to possibly offset some tax increases.
Sharkey was unable to say Tuesday if Malloy’s proposed changes are what the legislature planned to implement when they return for a special session next week. He said Tuesday’s caucus was a chance for its members to voice their concerns about the budget and offer some feedback on what they want to see in a final package.
“Whenever you might be doing something that’s controversial it’s those voices who are complaining who are the loudest in those scenarios,” Sharkey said.
The June 3 vote on the budget was the closest in recent memory. It passed 73-70 with 11 Democratic lawmakers joining Republicans in voting against it. There are 64 Republicans in the House and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides said Tuesday that every single one of them would be there to vote against the budget language in a special session.
Regardless of the criticism about a budget that was largely crafted behind closed-doors, Sharkey has called it “historic” and “transformational.” He said the budget is currently balanced and his message to anyone seeking to make changes to it is: “If we’re going to make changes we have to make ways of paying for it.”
He said “folks may be long on ideas about things they don’t like. They’re often times short on suggestions on how to pay for those things that they want to change.”
He said that’s the challenge he has at the moment. He said they’re listening and hearing the concerns, “but we also have to find a way to pay for it.”
Republican lawmakers said Democratic lawmakers and Malloy should scrap the budget they passed on June 3 and start from scratch.
“I don’t think there’s many people, if any in this building . . . who believe this is a great budget,” Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said. “If it was, why are we already back pedaling?”
At the very least, even if they don’t invite Republicans to join the conversation, “could they do what they do in the open?” Fasano asked. “What is the fear of the light?”
Republicans wrote an alternative budget proposal in April, but that budget was out of balance by about $250 million just a week after they presented it because revenues had been adjusted downward.
Fasano said they’ve made adjustments to rebalance their budget. Those adjustments, according to Fasano’s office, would delay implementation of the sales tax exemption on clothing and footwear under $50, transfer funds, eliminate public election campaign financing, and reduce contributions to the state employee pension fund. At least a handful of the reductions, like delaying the implementation of the sales tax exemption on clothing and footwear under $50, are policy measures Republicans have criticized Democrats for pursuing in the past.
The Republican budget presented in April also relied on about $253 million in savings that the administration and labor unions agreed to find when they inked the $1.6 billion concession deal back in 2011. However, those savings, according to the Office of Fiscal Analysis, were never found.
Klarides said Democrats should be talking about labor concessions. She said they talk about it as if it’s not “statistically possible” when that’s absolutely not the case. The layoff protection for union workers who agreed to a concession deal in 2011 expires June 30, which makes it possible for Malloy to lay off state employees if he chooses.
Klarides said she believes there are a lot of lawmakers who voted “yes” for the June 3 budget who are having “buyer’s remorse.” She said the Democratic majority will have to deal with 64 “no” votes from the Republicans in a special session that could presumably start Monday, June 29.
She said she hopes more moderate Democratic lawmakers decide to vote against the budget.
“Because ruining this state is where that line should be drawn,” Klarides said, adding that it “still baffles me they are considering moving forward with this budget.”
But Sharkey said Republicans can say what they want as a minority party because “they don’t have to be the adult in the room.”
“They’re not responsible for having to pass a budget. The majority party is responsible for having to pass a budget and make the tough decisions that may be unpopular for some, but are necessary if we’re going to actually move forward,” Sharkey said.
Fasano said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle weren’t allowed to see what was in the final budget, almost up until the time they voted on it.
“It’s not too late to change,” Fasano said.
Democratic lawmakers don’t see why they should invite Republicans to the table to negotiate a package they won’t ever vote for. Asked if they could have an open mind about revenue, Fasano said he’s not going to have those conversations “in the media.”
“I’m going to have those conversations in a room” with legislative leaders and Malloy, Fasano said.