HARTFORD, CT – Senate Democratic lawmakers Wednesday failed to get their Republican colleagues to go along with legislation that would have allowed municipalities more time to put their budgets together.
The Democrats wound up pulling the legislation, though it could still be brought up again in the future.
The House didn’t take up the legislation at all on Wednesday. In fact they adjourned, before the Senate gave up on passing the legislation after a 90-minute debate.
Democrats who proposed the legislation said it was the right thing to do in a year when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed budget causes drops, some seismic, in aid to 138 of the 169 towns to combat a projected $3.6 billion deficit.
Republicans said Democrats were passing the buck and legislators should get to work on the budget now – and not wait until the last day of the legislative session to pass a budget.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, who introduced the bill with House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said giving towns more time to put their budgets together this year was “the right thing to do.”
Looney said the Democrats backed off the legislation “because it was obvious the Republicans were filibustering it.”
At least one Republican Senator was absent so Democrats held at least a one vote majority in the chamber Wednesday.
Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, rejected the filibuster claim, stating the Democrats “can’t bully through” legislation anymore since both parties hold the same number of seats in the Senate.
“The bully days are over,” Fasano said. “We have a right to raise concerns about a bill. Especially one that we only first saw a few hours ago.”
Democrats also weren’t happy at the suggestion from Republicans that the Democrats were shirking their responsibilities by not tackling the budget on the state-side, first.
“We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Aresimowicz said, stating Democrats have worked and will continue to work long and hard on the state budget.
Supporting the legislation was Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, who served 14 years as mayor of Manchester from 1991 to 2005.
Cassano said giving the towns more time while the state worked out its budget was a no-brainer for him. When he was mayor, Cassano said, “We adopted and kept our fingers crossed.”
But Republicans weren’t buying it.
Fasano and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, criticized the Democrats.
“We should do our job,” Fasano said. “Let’s get our budget out, let’s vote on them and let municipalities work off those budgets.”
Klarides added: “You can’t take the credit for putting the fire out when you set the fire in the first place. It doesn’t work that way.”
Earlier this week Malloy and Democratic legislative leaders told the head of the largest municipal lobby that they want to see if they can help cities and towns delay their budget process and avoid possibly overtaxing or undertaxing their residents.
“We have heard and understand the anxiety expressed by local leaders over the timing of municipal aid assumptions and budget adoptions, especially when there is a long session and so many changes have been and will continue to be put on the table for consideration,” Malloy and legislative leaders wrote to Connecticut Conference of Municipalities CEO Joe DeLong. ”To that end, we would like to work with CCM and its members on potential changes to existing statutes to give municipalities more time to adopt budgets, as well as expedited adoption of grand lists.”
DeLong, who was at the state Capitol Wednesday, called the legislation a “tool in the toolbox for a handful of communities that feel very strongly that being able to use it will able to have them budget more accurately at a local level.”
DeLong said he felt the vast majority of towns wouldn’t need the extra time, but listed smaller communities such as Tolland and Coventry as two examples of towns that might benefit from the additional time.
DeLong said the problem with the governor’s budget, which makes several changes to municipal aid formulas and funding, is that municipalities run the risk of overtaxing or undertaxing their residents.
“We’d like to see budgets done more quickly at the state end,” DeLong said in answer to a question, but he added CCM nor the towns it represents has control over that.
The legislation, DeLong reiterated, “buys towns that need it some more time.”
Fasano said if DeLong really felt that way then he should have approached Republican Senators too. Fasano said the Republican caucus received the legislation at 1 p.m. Wednesday.
In Connecticut, the governor proposes a two-year budget on the first Wednesday in February and the legislature’s Appropriations and Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee have until the end of April to propose a budget. At that point negotiations between the governor’s staff and lawmakers begins.
Earlier this week, Fasano and Klarides said asking towns to delay their budgets would create significant challenges and confusion in towns across the state.
“Rather than spending time trying to negotiate acceptable language for changes to local charters, we believe our towns and cities would be better served if that time was dedicated to working on the budget together so that municipalities could more quickly get the answers that they count on every year,” Fasano and Klarides wrote in a letter to Malloy.
State lawmakers like to wait until after April 15 to approve a budget because that’s when state and federal income taxes are due.
It’s not until after April 15 that the state has a more accurate revenue picture on which to build its budget.
This year’s Appropriations Committee deadline is April 27 and April 28 for the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee.
It’s unclear how much sooner the state would be able to come up with a budget proposal for municipalities to use as a basis for their local budget.