HARTFORD, CT — With a budget that’s about $5.1 billion in deficit over the next two years, the House and the Senate are struggling to find meaningful legislation to debate that doesn’t contain a fiscal note.
On Wednesday, the “order of the day” in the House was a bill to create a hotline for small businesses. In the Senate, they unanimously approved a bill that dealt with swatting, which is prank calling emergency services to get a large number of armed police officers dispatched to a particular address.
For most of the day both chambers debated and approved a series of bills that made technical changes to various statutes, one that would allow people with criminal records to get a license to be a hairdresser or barber and another that would require the Department of Public Health to list lactation consultants on its website.
Rep. Melissa Ziobron, R-East Haddam, expressed her frustration Wednesday during debate over a bill regarding lactation consultants.
“I have constituents who are thinking about putting a for sale sign in their yard,” Ziobron said.
She said the state has a lot of problems, and “talking about lactation consultants for 65 minutes shouldn’t be one of them.”
“The budget is sucking a lot of oxygen out of the room,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said Wednesday morning at a press conference in his office.
That sucking sound is the result revenues dropping, causing budget proposals to fall out of balance.
Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said the budget is like a balloon.
“You pinch here and you have a problem there,” he said.
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he would present a revised budget proposal to lawmakers Friday, May 12. Meanwhile, lawmakers are working on their own budgets and going through the stages of grief.
“We’re going to undo 20 years of policy through this budget,” Aresimowicz said.
“There’s a certain amount of almost depression that’s now setting in,” he added.
Someone like Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, who has fought passionately for people here in Connecticut all these years, is now forced to sit there with a pen and cut items of importance to the state, Aresimowicz said.
“It’s very difficult,” he added.
Asked what stage of grief she’s at Wednesday, Walker said, “anger.”
“I was just told to find another $1 billion in cuts,” she said as she headed back to continue working on the budget.
The deficit in 2018 is estimated at $2.2 billion and for 2019 it’s $2.9 billion. That’s almost two-thirds of the deficit Malloy inherited when he was sworn into office in 2011 and proposed a “shared sacrifice” budget that included more than a billion dollars in tax increases.
But following another tax increase in 2015 and the departure of General Electric from Fairfield to Boston, there’s little appetite left for increasing taxes.
On the other hand, Aresimowicz said he still hears from constituents daily about last year’s budget, which only cut spending.
“Those are real people’s lives that are affected by those cuts,” Aresimowicz said.
It’s about the mother who is able to go to work because she has someone to come watch her son with developmental disabilities, he said. Those are the real stories.
“We see the faces on the other side of those dollar amounts,” Aresimowicz said.
He said making the kind of decisions lawmakers will be forced to make over the next month is not why they ran for office.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said none of what’s about to happen is something they were thinking about when they were knocking on doors last fall.
He said they ran for office to make a difference and the state’s fiscal crisis is making their jobs harder.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said they still have to pass legislation that’s important to their members, even if those bills don’t carry a fiscal note.
“Obviously the budget is hanging over us,” Ritter said. “But we’re still going to be in session and we’re going to vote on bills.”
Deputy House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said for those who are close to the budget process they might view legislation, such as the bill on lactation consultants, a little differently.
“They do look at these type of bills as sort of derailing the budget process,” Candelora said.
Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who co-chairs the Appropriations Committee, said the legislature can walk and chew gum at the same time.
She said lawmakers have to be conscious of what types of legislation they’re pushing in light of the budget crisis. Osten said she has a bill to designate March 29 as Bob Hope Day, but she’s not expecting it to be raised for a vote.