HARTFORD, CT — House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz and House Majority Leader Matt Ritter accused their Republican colleagues of playing politics Friday and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides returned the favor as the General Assembly heads into the last few days of the legislative session.
With a $5.1 billion budget deficit hanging around their necks, lawmakers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy gave themselves until the end of June to reach a compromise. However, the sides are still very far apart and now partisan bickering and finger pointing has become part of the equation after Democrats were unable to bring a bill to install electronic tolls to a vote Thursday.
“It’s hard for me right now to go out there and ask the majority leaders to run bills that will allow people to move forward their proposals and their goals, while my caucus continues — continues — to sacrifice things they care about for the greater good of the state, but there’s not the same accountability on the other side,” Aresimowicz said.
He declined to say whether Republicans, who are still in the minority with 72 members, should continue to be part of the budget negotiations.
“I’m not prepared to answer that question. Actually, I don’t want to answer that question,” Aresimowicz said Friday morning in his office.
He said Republican lawmakers are in his office every day asking about education funding for their town or asking about whether the House will run a bill to help homeowners in 40 communities, mostly represented by Republicans, with crumbling foundations.
“How is it fair to my members who take the difficult votes that allow those projects to go forward, and they vote ‘no’ and then they’re still able to go home and claim credit for their projects?” Aresimowicz said.
He said it’s an “alternate universe.”
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said it’s sad when the speaker can’t control the members in his own caucus.
“We are not afraid to make the difficult decisions,” Klarides said.
She said they deserve to stay at the negotiating table because they represent 49 percent of the state of Connecticut and there is no condition going into a negotiation “where you must agree to something or you can’t go in.”
She said that’s exactly why they have failed to lead.
“I find it interesting that whenever they don’t agree with us or they can’t get their votes together then the answer is this is political gamesmanship,” Klarides said.
She said they haven’t had to worry about members of their own caucus for the past 38 to 40 years, but the margin is much smaller now. She said until now they “haven’t had a message” and have “kowtowed to special interests and done what was in the best interest of them getting re-elected not what was in the best interest of the state of Connecticut.”
Democrats hold a 79-72 majority over Republicans in the House and the parties are evenly split in the state Senate.
However, Ritter said the Republican Party isn’t even united on the issues. The perfect example of this was the deficit mitigation package that squeaked through the House 75-74 earlier this week. It had been approved 36-0 by the Senate.
“You gotta start saying to yourself, what is this about?” Ritter said.
Aresimowicz said House Republicans were involved in negotiations on the deficit mitigation until it hit the Senate floor and then suddenly they found something objectionable on Wednesday morning and they’re off the package.
Republicans “were going to find a way to get away from the table, one way or another,” Aresimowicz said. “So they could use it more for political advantage come 2018.”
He said the members of the Republican caucus have legislation that’s important to their districts that they would like to see passed. He said he doesn’t have a problem with that, but “how can you continue to bring the bag full of goodies back to your district while you didn’t make the tough choices?”
He said until that happens then there’s going to be a lot less getting done.
“We’re not scared. We’ve taken a lot of tough votes,” Aresimowicz said.
Ritter said he doesn’t know how they can pass a bill to help homeowners with crumbling foundations because it will include a fiscal note. That means it’s probably going to have to be part of the larger budget negotiations. He asked whether that mean Republicans who represent communities plagued by the problem are going to vote against it?
“It’s a tough argument,” Ritter said.