HARTFORD, CT — Legislative leaders and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy decided after an hour-long meeting that they won’t reach a deal to close a two-year $5.1 billion deficit by June 7.
That means they will begin to draft a call to special session, while Malloy starts work on a contingency in case lawmakers can’t get the job done by June 30, the end of the fiscal year.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said even though they are all still at the table it wasn’t hard to see they are still too far apart to reach a deal by next Wednesday.
“There is not any realistic prospect for reaching agreement within the next couple of days,” Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said.
He said they would continue to meet and seek to reach an agreement.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said he thinks leaders and the governor can agree on about 85 percent of the budget, leaving about 15 percent to be negotiated.
However, Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said the Office of Fiscal Analysis, which has analyzed the budget, says it’s closer to 25 percent.
“Exact dollar amounts he’s probably accurate,” Aresimowicz said. “But I’m a non-objective person and I’m saying subject matter in areas where we believe we can do something the number is higher.”
Aresimowicz conceded Fasano’s number from the Office of Fiscal Analysis was accurate.
Reaching a consensus on even the smallest details is harder than in typical years because the margins between Republicans and Democrats is closer than it’s been in decades.
“We are facing a difficult budget process and the policy that goes along with that is also very difficult,” Aresimowicz said. “I think depression is at least starting to be realized.”
The governor gets elected statewide and he can look at the state as a whole, but lawmakers end up setting statewide policy but represent individual districts, House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, explained. He said lawmakers are going to have to start thinking more about the state if they are going to move Connecticut forward.
Klarides said it makes it easier to pass a budget with a larger majority because it means the Democratic Party can allow members who would be punished by their constituents at the polls to vote against the measure.
“Now you need almost every member they have,” Klarides said.
The Democrats hold a 79-72 majority over Republicans in the House. In the Senate, the two parties are evenly divided.
“There are many members in the House Democrats who are very, very scared and not interested in tax increases,” Klarides said.
She said that was evident Wednesday, when the deficit mitigation package to erase this year’s $317 million deficit passed by only one vote.
She said this is why it “matters so much there is parity in parties in the House and Senate.”
The Republicans picked up eight seats in the House and three in the Senate in the 2016 election.
As far as what will or won’t get passed in the final few days of the legislative session, Klarides said she thinks it’s going to be a “minute-to-minute” conversation.
Earlier in the day, Aresimowicz and Ritter cautioned his colleagues about going past June 30.
Beyond June 30, Malloy has complete control over the state budget.
“If you are a state rep I don’t care what party you’re from, if we get into July and August without a state budget there’s one person who runs the state of Connecticut,” Ritter said. “And you’ve seen his budget.”
He said if lawmakers want to protect the things they care about then they need to agree to a plan before June 30.
“That should make everyone think in a bipartisan way to get a deal done,” Ritter said.
There have been a handful of times over the past 20 years when the governor has vetoed budget proposals and the current budget has expired on June 30, requiring the governor to keep government running through executive order.
The last time that happened was in 2009. Then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed the budget and ended up operating state government through two executive orders before allowing a budget to become law without her signature in September.
In 2003, the legislature tried to pass a continuing resolution to allocate money to keep government running in the absence of a budget deal with then-Gov. John G. Rowland. Rowland vetoed the continuing resolutions and operated government through five executive orders.
In 1991, the legislature passed temporary spending measures, which were then signed by the governor as negotiators worked to reach an agreement that would include the state’s first income tax.
What eventually makes it into the 2018-19 budget package is anyone’s guess that this point.
Lawmakers were surrounded Thursday by various special interests all advocating for their causes.
On one side of the House chamber were a group of boat enthusiasts who were advocating for a 50-percent reduction in sales taxes on boats. The proposal would cost the state about $2.5 million annually in revenue, but marina employees said it would increase the number of boats being docked and stored in Connecticut, creating an opportunity for an increase in revenues.
In the Legislative Office Building, mothers of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities were advocating for an increase in funding to maintain programs managed by the Department of Developmental Services.
Peggy Embardo, who has a son with a developmental disability, said “my needs are never going away.”
Velma Williams-Estes, who has a daughter with a developmental disability, said Connecticut needs to put “people first.”
She said her daughter and Embardo’s son need all the help they can get because they can’t help themselves.
“It’s exactly like kicking the pension liability down the road,” Embardo said. “It’s going to come.”
Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, said now that the budget will be debated in a special session “anything can happen.”
“We’ve entered the land where all things are possible,” Tercyak said.
He said maybe the budget negotiators will love yachts and hate tolls and that’s the budget package that lands on their desk.