The House and the Senate reconvened Monday to discuss whether they will override the $22.5 million in funding Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed from the budget, but in the end they declined.
The House wanted to override the veto, but it was the Senate, which would have to take the bill up first, declined.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said overriding the governor’s budget vetoes would be “largely symbolic,” because the governor has “significant recession authority, lapse authority” and he’s going to continue to use that authority to make cuts. So even if the legislature decided to override the vetoes, it already gave the governor the power to cut $170 million from the state budget without seeking their approval.
“He has other potential options available to him even if there were to be an override today,” Looney said.
In his veto message, Malloy said he had to cut the money in order to ensure the 2017 budget he signed was in balance. He said a bill that would allow doctors to offer 3D mammography for breast cancer screening, which he signed, and a bill reforming the bail system, which failed to get a vote, would cause it to be out of balance.
The breast cancer bill came with the $9 million fiscal note, according to the Insurance Department. And the reforms to the bail system would save the state $15.8 million because it would allow the state to reduce the pretrial prison population by 350 prisoners charged with misdemeanors, and also close a prison.
Because of those policy changes, Malloy vetoed $20 million in municipal aid, $1.73 million for the Connecticut Humanities Council, and $775,000 for Federally Qualified Health Centers.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, differed with Looney and held a press conference before noon to say his members were in favor of overriding the governor’s vetoes.
“The cuts being proposed are too much to ask our municipalities to sustain this close to the new fiscal year,” Sharkey said.
He said they also don’t support the cuts to the Connecticut Humanities Council or the Federally Qualified Health Centers, but generally they don’t believe the cuts are even necessary.
Sharkey said the bail legislation was a “helpful measure,” but “it wasn’t the essential piece that would enable the state to close a prison.”
He said when House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, sought to get clarification on the matter, Malloy administration Chief of Staff Brian Durand sent her a “three-page diatribe.”
Sharkey said it was “inappropriate and disrespectful to any leader in this body.”
Sharkey said the letter also didn’t answer the question about why the veto was necessary.
“We all agree we want to close a prison and there’s a $15 million price tag in savings from closing a prison,” Sharkey said. “But the bail bond reform legislation is not directly tied to closing a prison. Even our own analysts acknowledge it might be helpful,” but those who would be impacted by the bill, according to Sharkey, are not in prisons.
“We still have not had a satisfactory explanation as to why this veto is even necessary,” Sharkey said.
Malloy has said the measure would have saved taxpayers “tens of thousands of dollars per day.” The administration concluded that there’s no way they can achieve the savings without the bail reform the legislature failed to approve. And a May 23 memo from the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis says that “while the changes contained in SB 505 will assist in closing a facility, those changes alone will not result in the closure of a prison.”
Devon Puglia, a spokesman for Malloy, said he was “exceptionally confused” by Sharkey’s comments Monday.
“After calling for Second Chance savings in his own Appropriations Budget, and after personally committing to the policy changes necessary for closing a prison as part of our budget agreement, what we heard today from the Speaker was misinformation and misdirection,” Puglia said. “It was misinformation about previously agreed upon issues that are months and months old, and it was done to misdirect attention away from an unwillingness to pass legislation he’d agreed to pass.”
In order to override the governor, the House and the Senate would need the help of Republican lawmakers. Klarides said all of her members were in favor of overriding the governor.
What about the politics of an override?
Last week, Quinnipiac University released a poll showing Malloy’s approval rating had dropped to 24 percent.
Some political insiders said the General Assembly, which is up for re-election this year, should try to separate itself from an unpopular governor.
But Looney isn’t one of them.
Asked whether it would be a wise political move, Looney said “it may, it may not,” adding, “It’s a long time from now until the election and I don’t think that people make that kind of a connection in many ways.”
Next Monday, June 20, the House and the Senate will convene again to decided whether they want to override any of the eight bills Malloy vetoed that were passed during the regular session that was adjourned May 4.
The Senate, according to Looney, is willing to consider overriding some of those vetoes and will return next Monday to discuss it. He said they have not conveyed their desire to do that yet with the House and would not say exactly which bills they are considering.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said the governor has “bullied these guys,” but they still need his help and they’re afraid to cross him.
Fasano said they may not want his help on the campaign trail, but the governor still has the ability to marshal state party resources and help out behind the scenes.
“He’s still a big voice,” Fasano said. “He still has a megaphone.”