Democratic and Republican legislative leaders emerged from an hour-long, closed-door budget negotiation Monday united in their desire to pinpoint the depth of Connecticut’s budget deficit.
Legislative leaders went into negotiations with different ideas about what parts of the budget should be counted toward the deficit.
Republican lawmakers believe the deficit is bigger than the $220 million identified by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
They put the deficit at $431.7 million. That number assumes the state won’t receive money from the federal government for Medicaid and Medicare Part B funding, which still needs to be approved by Congress. It also assumes the state will spend more than it has budgeted and it assumes bond premium esitmates are too aggressive.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the deficit is about $250 million, according to the Office of Fiscal Analysis, if you accept the governor’s initial $103 million in emergency spending cuts. But it’s about $353 million “if you go back to square one and don’t regard the $103 million as having already been accomplished.”
But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agreed that cuts to hospitals and social services impacted by that $103 million rescission are unacceptable.
“Our intent from the beginning was to find some way to adjust some of those,” Looney said. “So those rescissions would not be necessary.”
Looney acknowledged that in order to accomplish that they will need to find additional spending cuts.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said they all agreed they want to get the deficit number nailed down before moving forward.
Republicans begged for an invitation to the negotiating table and said they would share their ideas about how to cut spending when they get there. They got an invitation to the table, and are now making an issue out of the size of the deficit.
“I want it to work so I guess I’m going to assume everyone is coming to the table at some point to make suggestions,” Malloy said.
Malloy said being governor is a different job than serving in the legislature.
He said he thinks the difference in the deficit is more a matter of “semantics” and “how you view things.”
The governor pointed out that the amount of money state agencies agree not to spend is defined differently by the Office of Fiscal Analysis than his budget office. He expressed confidence that state agencies would meet their targeted spending plans.
No spending cuts were discussed during Monday’s meeting.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said Democrats had proposed cutting 2.5 percent across the board to deal with the initial $103 million spending cut. However, it’s unclear exactly how certain programs or agencies would be impacted and what specifically would be cut as a result.
“There is a statutory framework. That’s the rescissionary authority granted to the governor. I’ve exercised it,” Malloy said. “People said they have ideas for how to do it differently. I’ve invited them to the table. We don’t have to debate the shape of the table, but they want to have a debate about how much money it is. So take a week and let’s get that done.”
Early next week legislative leaders and Malloy will convene for another meeting.
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said there’s no disputing that they all have the best interests of the state in mind.
“Republican, Democrat, governor, we want to put the state back on track,” Fasano said. “We’re going to bring all the ideas to the table, share them, and see what we can find as common ground.”