HARTFORD, CT — Union leaders, municipal officials, lobbyists, and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz showed up Tuesday for a presentation of the House Republican budget proposal.
It’s been 11 days since the end of the 2017 fiscal year, and the Connecticut General Assembly has been unable to pass a two-year budget or a temporary one to keep the government running. In the interim, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has been running the state through an executive order.
The proposal House Republicans presented Tuesday is different than the one House Democrats proposed and it’s even different from the one proposed by Senate Republicans.
“Some of their proposals today are interesting. We’re going to look at them,” Aresimowicz said. However, he also said some of the proposals — like the one that would change the health and pension benefits for state employees — are problematic.
Republicans are seeking to make the changes like eliminating the use of overtime in pension calculations and changing how Medicare Advantage plans are administered to retirees through state statute, instead of collective bargaining. Currently, the state employee unions collectively bargain for those benefits with the governor’s administration. The General Assembly can ratify those changes to the labor contracts, or they can allow them to automatically go into effect after 30 days.
Rank-and-file union members are currently voting on a concession package to change their wages and benefits. The savings, which are included in the governor’s and Democratic budget proposals, amount to $1.569 billion over the next two fiscal years.
Aresimowicz said it’s still his goal to have the General Assembly vote to ratify the labor deal after the union vote even though he has another option. He could let the labor deal sit on the clerk’s desk until the start of the 2018 legislative session in February and then wait 30 days for it to go into effect automatically.
He said he wants an up or down vote on the labor package “with the understanding that if you vote no on the SEBAC agreement, you have to come up with an actual legal way to come up with the $1.5 billion over the two-year biennium.”
Correction officers and firefighters were on hand Tuesday to let Republicans know they aren’t interested in changing how their benefits are bargained. Republicans said the changes would be administrative and would not take away collective bargaining rights.
“Unfortunately the way we do it now … it’s not working,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said. She said that applies not only to how state employees are paid and how schools are funded, but to every aspect of state government.
She said the $5.1 billion deficit over the next two years is evidence the current way of funding state government is not working.
“It’s not my opinion that it’s not working. It’s just not working,” Klarides said.
But she said House Republicans will not support a budget that increases taxes and “rounds the edges of a square a little bit.”
Aresimowicz said he intends to convene a session on Tuesday, July 18, to pass a two-year budget and expressed confidence Connecticut would have a budget by the end of the month.
“There’s things beyond all of our control. You’re dealing with two chambers, two branches, and members on both sides of the aisle, so it becomes difficult,” Aresimowicz said.
Asked whether it was possible to have a budget by July 18, Klarides wasn’t as optimistic.
“Do I think it’s a possibility that we will vote on something on Tuesday? Yes,” Klarides said. “Do I think it’s likely? No.”
Aresimowicz said there’s no one to blame for the budget stalemate, “it’s just the circumstances we find ourselves.” He cited the drop in revenues and the need to further cut spending as the reason it’s been so difficult to find compromise.
“We’ve had six years of difficult budgets,” Aresimowicz said.
Klarides said there’s no one to blame, but what they’re seeing now is the tight margins between Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly. The Democrats hold a 79-72 majority over Republicans in the House and the parties are evenly split in the Senate.
“I’m not blaming anybody … These are tough decisions guys,” Klarides said.
Aresimowicz said he believes they’ve made progress in reaching a budget compromise even if legislative leaders and Gov. Malloy haven’t met since the end of the 2017 fiscal year.
“I think we’ve made good progress in understanding other people’s proposals,” Aresimowicz said.
Malloy isn’t going to be blamed for the state’s budget impasse. That much he made clear Monday.
The current budget stalemate is still completely avoidable if the General Assembly can get its act together and take action either on a two-year budget or a temporary 90-day spending plan.
“We need evidence we’re going to do one or another,” Malloy said Monday following a discussion with affordable housing officials.
It was just the first in what are expected to be many discussions to highlight the impact the lack of a state budget is having, specifically on the nonprofit private provider community.
“I am going to make it clear that this is not an optimal situation. But this is also an avoidable situation,” Malloy said. “It would be avoidable by a biennium budget. It would be avoidable by a mini-budget. I don’t want anyone in the state to think I am joyful about making these decisions on my own. This is not what you hire a governor for.”
Editor’s note: The photo caption under House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz has been changed to reflect that he was using the calculator on his phone and not texting.