Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his budget director, Ben Barnes, were not at the state Capitol Saturday negotiating the budget with a stunned group of Democratic legislative leaders, who seemed confused about their absence.
“We’re hoping they’re going to be willing to engage,” Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said. “Now, it looks like they’ve broken things off.”
Looney said they were trying to track down the governor’s staff. Most of the governor’s staff responsible for budget negotiations were not available Saturday. The governor also was not at the state Capitol.
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said they came to the Capitol on Saturday with every expectation they would be negotiating a budget with the Malloy administration.
She said they told the governor’s staff they wanted to talk Saturday morning, but they never showed up.
“We were utterly shocked,” Bye said.
She said she knows the governor will be receiving an award Sunday in Boston, which is why she expected he would be ready to negotiate a budget Saturday.
Malloy called reporters into his office around 10:30 p.m. Friday night and told them “discussions are hitting a wall” and less than 24 hours after negotiations with Democratic legislative leaders began it doesn’t appear “there’s a basis to get to a budget using that document and there doesn’t seem to be substantial movement off of that document.”
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said Saturday was a “pivotal day” for continuing discussions because Malloy won’t be available Sunday.
“I don’t know why the administration is not here and not willing,” Sharkey said.
Sharkey Tweeted a photo of legislative leaders, including the chairs of the budget writing committees, sitting around a table in his Capitol office around 4 p.m. on Saturday.
“Saturday, working on the budget. #WaitingForMalloy,” the Tweet said.
Malloy’s spokesman Devon Puglia tweeted back: “We are waiting for actual, sustainable spending reductions.”
Malloy told reporters Friday that Democratic legislative leaders have not made enough progress on cutting spending.
Sharkey said it was his understanding that they wouldn’t be negotiating the budget through the news media.
“We continue to be here ready to have those conversations,” Sharkey said.
He said the public expects the legislature to negotiate with the governor and work out a budget deal. However, Democratic legislative leaders were content just a week ago to run a budget without negotiating it with Malloy. Plans to do that fell through when they learned they didn’t have the votes to send a budget to Malloy.
Technically, the legislature adopted a two-year budget last year and don’t have to adjust the 2017 budget before they adjourn on May 4. They can leave the budget they passed in place, even though it will be out of balance by $960 million.