HARTFORD, CT — As they wait for what is likely to be more bad news about Connecticut’s income tax collections, Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven said he wants budget negotiations open to the media and televised on Connecticut Networks.
Traditionally, the wheeling and dealing over the state budget goes behind closed doors after the committee process ends. The media and lobbyists are left looking for crumbs as lawmakers enter or exit various rooms in the state Capitol.
As lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy go behind closed doors to hash out a budget deal, Looney wants to leave the door open.
“Rather than enduring a month or perhaps several months of dueling news conferences debating whose contingent, work-in-progress budget is most legitimate, competitive spin and strategic or retaliatory leaks, let us take a new, more straightforward, unencumbered approach to our current budget challenge,” Looney said. “We should pursue the most open, transparent, and candid budget negotiation process in Connecticut’s history.”
Looney said revenues for the next two fiscal years will be downgraded. The latest revenue figures show a $5.1 billion deficit over the next two years.
He said the situation that was “already extremely challenging now has become especially dire” and he believes working together in public will enhance the prospect of a bipartisan agreement.
Republican legislative leaders said they’re happy to sit down to have a conversation about the state’s budget situation.
“I will show up for budget talks any time, any place,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said. “We have been begging for years to be in the room.”
But she finds it difficult to believe they are out there today talking about having budget talks in open, but have yet to put a budget together. She said for months they were asking to see the Republican Party’s budget, which they released publicly last week.
She said the majority party has yet to even put together a complete budget package.
Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he would also be open to opening budget negotiations.
“Given that negotiations with the governor are beginning tomorrow, and Democrats haven’t presented a full budget yet, I assumed the Democrats would want to share their ideas,” Fasano said.
It’s likely that the proposal to open budget negotiations will be seen as a formula for greater political posturing and partisan bickering.
Fasano called it “political bravado.”
Looney joked that he didn’t think that would happen because they would have a sensor for political posturing and a trap door would open under that lawmakers chair.
In all seriousness, Looney said the participation of the public will keep lawmakers in line.
“It becomes a civic lesson for the public,” Looney said.
However, the motivations of Democratic lawmakers are going to be challenged since Democrats, who held the majority in both chambers for many years, never made a similar proposal in the past when arguably the fiscal situation was even more dire.
In 2016, Republican lawmakers picked up eight seats in the House and three in the Senate, which allowed them to draw even with Democrats in the upper chamber. In the House they are still in the minority, but by a much smaller 79-72 margin.
“Now given our situation, it’s time for a different paradigm,” Looney said referring to the state’s finances.
He said the current closed-door negotiations “often resulted in lengthy delays and a process that was regarded by some as chaotic.” He said even rank-and-file lawmakers didn’t appreciate it because they often were unaware of how certain pieces of policy came to be included in the budget.
Looney said he doesn’t believe the proposal would make it any less likely they will adjourn on June 7 with a budget deal.