HARTFORD, CT — Republicans who picked up eight seats in the House and three in the Senate in 2016 are still asking to be part of discussions as the General Assembly heads into extra innings to debate the two-year, $5.1 billion budget deficit.
If a budget deal isn’t reached by June 30, then by law Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will run the government through executive order beginning on July 1.
At a post-mortem press conference Thursday, House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, admitted that Republicans have their eyes on 2018, but that doesn’t mean they won’t work with Democrats to try to come up with a budget during the upcoming special session.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, has accused Klarides of playing politics because she has talked about growing her party in 2018. He has said that stating that it is their objective to gain seats is “an obscene political statement” in the context of trying to come to agreement on various bills before the General Assembly.
However, if Republicans aren’t going to work on a budget compromise then “I can’t wait until we do the elections in 2018.” He said Republicans have “essentially lied to the voters of the state of Connecticut and said they wanted a seat at the table, they wanted to negotiate and they were willing to make tough decisions.”
At the same time, Klarides and her party could try and convince their Democratic colleagues to vote for the Republican budget proposal. All they would need is four votes.
Democrats have said the Republican Party wants to become the majority, but they can’t do that by voting “no” on everything and not taking any responsibility.
“We are creatures of elections. It is a natural thought process,” Klarides said. “But we can’t do that any more. We have to be willing to put our money where our mouth is and make the difficult decisions.”
She said they are willing to move forward with their budget proposal if they feel it’s something they can get consensus on from other members. Aresimowicz has said the parties are close to agreement on a number of budget issues.
“It’s what we don’t agree on that shows who can lead this state and bring them back,” Klarides said.
But even a vote on a deficit mitigation package that closed the 2017 budget deficit was a party-line, 75-74 vote in the House.
She said she hopes to work with her Democratic colleagues, but the state is at a “serious crossroads.”
Klarides was critical of Malloy’s budget deal with state employees that realizes $1.5 billion in concessions over the next two years.
She said the “concessions were not enough,” and added that the five-year extension of the contract from 2022 to 2027 was too long.
“I’m concerned the road is the wrong one,” Klarides said in response to a question about the budget options that have been forwarded by Malloy and Democrats.
The House Republican leader said it is time for legislators to lead and not worry that tough decisions may come back to haunt them.
She said even though it’s human nature to worry whether “people will be angry with us” and whether budget votes could “affect our re-election,” the state’s financial picture is so dire that there’s no alternative than to make what could be unpopular choices.
Malloy called his own press conference Thursday and said he doesn’t believe the Democratic majority will own the fiscal crisis the state has found itself in because it didn’t create it.
“It’s been a long time coming that the agreements reached in the past, particularly those labor agreements and then agreements not to fund those obligations are what has largely led to the predicament we’re in,” Malloy said.
Asked about alternative budget plans to his own, Malloy said he “would have vetoed” the Republican budget that made changes on state employee health and pension benefits, and “would not have signed” the one outlined by Democrats that legalized marijuana and expanded casino gambling.
Malloy said all the alternative budgets he’s seen so far don’t “get the job done.” On the issue of extracting more concessions from union workers, Malloy said he had “no expectation that we could reach a number that was greater than the initial target.”
Aresimowicz said he was going to make it “as hard as possible” for Republicans to vote against a budget package. He said he wants to work with them to find agreement, but that agreement has to include some revenue. He said without a revenue increase they would have to reduce the amount of borrowing the state does on an annual basis by $1.5 billion.
Meanwhile, in the final minutes of the legislative session Wednesday night, the Senate failed to approve a billthat would allow municipalities to adjust their budgets to reflect changes in state aid. The impact will vary based on adjustments municipalities choose to make to their mill rates, and their expenditures.
Most, if not all, municipal budgets will be set before the state finalizes its budget. And with radical proposals to change municipal aid formulas on the table, municipal leaders have been struggling to figure out which numbers they should use.
The House had passed the bill 149-0 on June 4.
A spokesman for the Senate Democratic caucus said the language will be adopted as part of the budget bill. He said the bill was only effective upon passage of a state budget, so there’s no harm in waiting.
Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said they didn’t feel the bill was necessary to debate because it can simply be included as part of the budget. He said it’s predicated on the state budget passing so it was an issue that could wait.